Mumbai: With no inclusive eateries in the city, young, disabled Mumbaikars forced to stay home

Updated: Nov 19, 2017, 10:03 IST | Dhara Vora Sabhnani and Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Even as a petition tries gathering support for inclusive eateries, two young, disabled Mumbaikars who went with us on a spot audit, say wheelchair-unfriendly loos means they can have a good time, but only at home

After getting the railways to procure foldable wheelchairs and construct ramps in order to make stations accessible to the disabled, activist Virali Modi turned her attention to India’s burgeoning hospitality industry. Earlier this year, she collaborated with accessible tourism platform Enable Travel to help them audit Mumbai restaurants that claimed to be wheel-chair accessible on their websites. Over two months, she visited more than 25 eateries, and found only five of them disabled-friendly.

 Salon owner Bharti Gehani, 34, is offered a larger table at Andheri’s Brewbot; staff at Bandra’s Bonobo lift her wheelchair and carry her into the elevator
Salon owner Bharti Gehani, 34, is offered a larger table at Andheri’s Brewbot; staff at Bandra’s Bonobo lift her wheelchair and carry her into the elevator

It led to the launch of #RampMyRestaurant, a campaign that kicked off an online petition, which she hopes to address to the National Restaurant Association of India, Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Social Welfare And Development. That is if she managed to garner enough support.

The response has not been as enthusiastic as she had hoped. “We have managed to gather 500 signatures, and are continuing to reach out to people to explain how important it is. If eateries install something as simple as a portable ramp, that’s a good start,” she says. Inspired by Modi’s efforts, mid-day teamed up with two disabled Mumbaikars, young and independent, for a spot accessibility audit on six of the city’s most popular resto-bars.

Sobi and Central Mumbai
With Anup Chandran, 34

Bank professional Anup Chandran met with a car accident in 2003 leading to a spinal-cord injury. It left him paralysed waist down, and confined to a wheelchair. But Chandran hasn’t let it affect his mobility. He drives himself around, plays wheelchair badminton at Sion’s District Sports Complex, and spends empty hours counseling others to come to terms with their disability. The Kalina resident is fortunate to be in a job where management makes the work environment inclusive. In fact, the bank where he works, shifted him to a branch where a restroom was designed to accommodate disabled users. mid-day accompanies him on a Sunday night to three resto-bars across Lower Parel and Colaba.

Stop 1 Todi Mills Social, Lower Parel
Anup Chandran. Pics/Shunashir Sen and Dhara Vora Sabhnani

Chandran drives us to Todi Mills where the Social outpost stands, while sharing that he hasn’t visited it before. The parking area is right outside the entrance, and a valet approaches us when Chandran halts. It takes him a few moments to figure that the guest needs the help of a wheelchair. But from there on, every member of the staff is equally attentive towards assisting Chandran. The entrance has one step, followed by two to enter the bar area. There is no ramp, so the staff helps tilt Chandran’s wheelchair and aid navigation. Inside, there are hardly any guests, and the only group at a table close by is engrossed in conversation. Then comes the bummer. We realise that the toilets aren’t wheelchair-accessible, which, Chandran says, is the most common hurdle he encounters.

Service Excellent
Loo Inaccessible
Will you Return? Yes, but only to stay for a bit

Stop 2 The St Regis Bar, St Regis hotel, Lower Parel

Anup Chandran

Starting from the entrance of the five-star to the bar at the ninth-floor lobby, every level of the hotel we visit is 100-per cent wheelchair-accessible. Plus, the staff seems less flustered when dealing with Chandran. In fact, the valet even fits the wheels into the spokes of the chair, indicating that he has been trained in the process. This, Chandran tells us, is because the establishment wouldn’t have been granted its five-star credentials otherwise. And that’s possibly why wheelchair-bound people prefer going to malls and five-stars. They are the only leisure spots where disabled-friendly toilets are assured, like at this bar. The key, according to Chandran, is the government mandating that such facilities exist at standalone establishments. “Otherwise, venues end up building small washrooms because they want to assign a larger space for seating, when all they need to do is build large, sliding doors to make the toilets accessible for everyone,” he tells us.

Service Excellent
Loo Accessible. Separate toilet for the disabled
Will you Return? Yes

Stop 3 The Bar Stock Exchange, Colaba
Anup Chandran

Our initial choice is Cuban-themed club Havana, located at Gordon House Hotel near the Gateway of India. But when we get there, we find five steep steps leading up to a narrow reception area, which is a far cry from the accessibility that St Regis affords. Hoping for a ramp is out of the question, Chandran says, and so, we alter our plans and make our way to the nearby The Bar Stock Exchange (TBSE). Here, too, the valet takes a moment to gather that the driver is wheelchair-bound. But the rest of our experience is similar to Social’s. “I have hardly ever faced a problem in terms of sensitivity [of staff] apart from one incident at Tryst [a Lower Parel nightclub], where they refused to let me enter a friend’s birthday party, without offering me a reasonable explanation,” Chandran tells us. The main problem, though, as at TBSE, is the inaccessible toilets.

Service Good
Loo Inaccessible
Will you Return? Not sure

Last word
Nine out of 10 times, the staff is helpful, but without central and state government mandates, accessibility continues to be a problem. The disabled will be able to access most toilets if one change is made — they are fitted with sliding doors and have enough room to turn the wheelchair around. Asking existing establishments to make the change may be a bit much but the government can mandate that new ones follow the rule.

Khar, Bandra and Andheri
With Bharti Gehani, 34

Bharti Gehani

Bharti Gehani runs one of the city’s few wheelchair-accessible salons, with business partner and friend Honey Lulla. A paraplegic, Gehani lost movement in her legs after a freak accident at a nightclub where she was accidentally pushed down a dimly-lit staircase.

That was nine years ago. Having gathered her life and confidence, she now plays sport, is a motivational speaker, travels the world, and commutes across Mumbai in a modified car. mid-day accompanies Gehani on a Saturday night to three pubs across Bandra, Khar and Andheri.

Stop 1 Bonobo, Bandra West
Bharti Gehani

Gehani, whose world inhabits the Khar-Bandra neighbourhood, is wary of stepping into a place that hosts live acts. “Usually, their biggest concern on a live gig night is that they don’t wish to be held responsible for a mishap,” she says while navigating the mad rush of shoppers down a street off Linking Road. As we stop by the club’s entrance, a valet is quick to hail another staffer and direct the traffic as they bring the wheelchair out of the boot. Since a flight of steps greet us at the entrance and the nightclub is reached via a lift, Gehani has to be carried in her wheelchair by the staffers into the elevator. The place isn’t crowded so it is easy to negotiate our way. In spite of us needing a table-for-two, we are immediately offered a larger one. In between drinks, a bearded gent walks up to Gehani and compliments her on her looks. He politely checks if she is a regular. Gehani tells us that men and women are friendly, and have even danced with her at clubs. “I feel happy when they look at me and realise their problems are smaller,” she smiles. When she needs to use the washroom, she realises it’s not wheelchair- accessible. The mirrors are too high and the cubicles, too small to manoeuvre a wheelchair. The manager is apologetic, and takes extra care of us when we leave, seeing us off till we are back in the car.

Service Excellent
Loo Inaccessible
Will you Return? Not sure

Stop 2 SamBar Pub & Kitchen, Khar

“I usually drink at home, use the washroom, and then leave because the restrooms outside are never accessible,” Gehani shares as we drive to SamBar. Another pleasant experience with the valet means that the wheelchair is lifted due to the absence of a ramp. By the time we get inside, other guests are several drinks down, but they are mindful of Gehani’s wheelchair and make way for us. She scans the menu and picks French fries. A glass of beer is out of bounds because the washroom is too.

Service Very good
Loo Inaccessible
Will you Return? Not sure

Stop 3 Brewbot, Andheri West
Bharti Gehani

Gehani waits in the car as we check for tables at the popular Link Road brewery. Unfortunately, a freak thundershower compels us to wait for 40 minutes since Gehani can’t be wheeled out in the rain. Once in, due to the absence of a ramp leading to the main bar area, we stick to the al fresco section. The staff is helpful but the washroom is off
limits. Gehani skips ordering a beer again, and opts for a pizza.

Service Very good
Loo Inaccessible
Will you Return? Not sure

Last word
Most guests and the staff are compassionate and helpful. I have had people offer to lift the wheelchair umpteen times. But there is a lack of awareness. That’s why F&B spaces aren’t constructing ramps and making washrooms wheelchair-friendly.


Also see: These Mumbai tantriks raped women on the pretext of 'healing' them

Tantriks who raped

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