A life more ordinary

For people with disabilities, a social life — or just a simple evening of fun disabilities — is difficult to get, because of the logistics involved. A Mumbai trust is changing that.

Jasmina Khanna, 46, is a senior software testing engineer with a multinational company called Syntel. She lives with cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound, which often means that her opportunities to go out and enjoy herself are severely limited. “There are not many places that are accessible by wheelchair and so going out anywhere requires a lot of planning,” she says. “When there are meetups organised with other differently-abled people they are usually seminars or conferences.”

Ashok Gupta, 33, a call centre employee who is also wheelchair bound, reflects her views: “For differently-abled people, the chance to go out and just have some fun is virtually non-existent. Mostly, we have stay at home, confined within four walls, with just a TV remote in our hand for entertainment. Even if we have to go out anywhere it involves having to ask family members to come and help out and that can be difficult to coordinate.”

Last Sunday, though, Ms. Khanna and Mr. Gupta took part in a unique meet-up for people with and without disabilities at the St Paul’s Media Complex in Bandra, hosted by an organisation called Trinayani. The event was about dissolving barriers, having conversation and simply celebrating with food and music.

An evening of fun

For participants like Mr. Gupta, the event was the first time that he had been invited a to a meetup that just focused on entertainment and having fun. “I think that these kind of events should happen more often,” he says. “It was the first time that I had been to an event where there as so much care taken to ensure that people could come and go comfortably, and everybody, no matter whether they had disabilities or not, was interacting with me.”

That event was a three-hour concert and meet-up at the St. Paul’s auditorium in Bandra which featured performances by an inclusive band called Pehli Baarish — which has musicians with and without disabilities — and Mumbai Drum Circle. It was supported by a mobility partner to help attendees get there, EzyMov, a company that fits cabs with equipment like hydraulic lifts and wheelchair restraints in order to make them accessible.

Ritika Sahni founded Trinayani in June 2006, as an advocacy group working towards creating awareness and sensitisation around people with disabilities. It undertakes projects for companies and other organisations. For instance they have worked with the Bengaluru airport’s management on issues of access, and are collaborating with the Election Commission for the Panvel civic body polls to evolve a system that will help disabled people cast their votes. Four years ago, though, Ms Sahni shifted the focus to include self-empowerment and advocacy from people with disabilities, encouraging them to speak with her at events she was conducting.

For the weekend meet-up, Ms. Sahni confesses that when she put the word out she expected maybe 20 people to turn up, 50 if they got lucky. “But as the registrations started rolling in and various organisations got in touch, we realised that there were going to be well over a hundred people — the eventual turnout was 134 — and we had to shift the venue form a small classroom next to the auditorium to the auditorium itself.”

The meet-up wasn’t their first event. Earlier this year, it organised an inclusive treasure hunt, which saw transgender participants, visually and physically impaired people and the able-bodied come together, and a Valentine’s Day event.

Into the light

The idea is to just be seen. Ms. Sahni explains: “Despite the crores of persons with disability in India, many remain invisible to many of us for various reasons. Our initiative wants them to come forth, mingle together and return more aware.” She hopes to get people with disabilities out of their homes, breaking boundaries in terms of what they can do. “We want it to be possible for instance, for differently-abled people to go for a movie, or just go for a walk or a picnic.”

Although the approaching monsoons might dictate that the next few events will have to be indoors, she does hope to organise a day out in Sanjay Gandhi National Park soon. At any rate there will be many more such events from now on, every month.http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/a-life-more-ordinary/article18558185.ece

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