DUBAI // Badrya al Jaber knows how to make the Metro more accessible to people like her. Ms al Jaber, a hearing-impaired teacher, said larger lights were needed to replace the bulbs placed over train doors that blink when the doors open. She also suggested that Metro customer service officials be taught basic sign language.
"I would like to travel on my own," said Ms al Jaber, who usually makes her trips on the Metro with family members. "If I'm sure there are people who understand me, I'll come more often." Ms al Jaber was one in a group of physically challenged people who travelled with transport and social officials to pinpoint ways to make Metro stations accessible to all those wishing to use them. About a dozen volunteers rode the system for two days accompanied by Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Ministry of Social Welfare authorities. They inspected stations to pinpoint facilities' shortcomings that could be fixed on the Red Line and the Green Line, which is under construction.
The Gap Analysis, a business tool that compares performance with potential, aims to make the Metro barrier-free for people with physical challenges. The volunteers will list comments and suggestions that the RTA plans to incorporate to make using the system easier. "People with special needs are part of our social fabric and we must listen to their needs," said Abdul Redha al Hassan, the director of the RTA's rail planning department. "We incorporated barrier-free designs when we designed the Metro. Now we need to know what extra services can be provided in current and future projects."
Volunteers were quick to offer input, citing the need for well-defined lights on train exits, belts or restraints for wheelchair users and more tactile metal paths in Metro coaches for the visually impaired. The Metro stoked the independent streak of special needs users including Manar Abdl Qader, a visually impaired Dubai Immigration employee. She is usually with friends when travelling and was encouraged about the prospect of moving about on her own.
"It's easy to use. I'm planning to travel alone soon without any friends around," she said. "The raised lines [tactile metal paths on the platforms] help my stick know the way." Ms Qader suggested installing similar metal pathways inside the Metro's Gold Class coaches. Ramps at exit and entry points, Braille lettering on elevator buttons, colour contrast signs and designated areas for wheelchairs are among the features already available to Metro users. Train entrances are at the same level as the platforms to make coming and going easier.
The RTA was somewhat ahead of its time in planning for special passengers from the Metro's inception. It held meetings with officials before building the Red Line to make the service accessible, said Nazam Fawzi, an adviser with the Ministry of Social Affairs. "The concept of accessibility is very new in the Middle East," he said. "I really believe this Metro is accessible compared to many in the world and this new study will make more improvements."
A ministry survey last year covering 65 people with special needs showed just 25 per cent said they would use the Metro, while the rest said they would think about it, he said. Khaltam Obaid al Matrooshi, a member of the Handicapped Guardian's Association and one of the Gap Analysis volunteers, is among those who enjoy the mobility of the Metro. She uses a wheelchair after a car accident in 1990 in which she lost three brothers.
"It's nice they are asking our opinion," she said. "I feel happy in the Metro. I can see Dubai from above, not just from the ground."
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