Dhruv Shirpurkar in the water on a floating wheelchair.
Riding the waves on a Goa beach just became doable for disabled holidayers at the ongoing #BeachFest2017. The fest, which runs till April 9, was put together by UMOJA, an online travel platform for 'people with accessibility needs'. The festival has shown that beach holidays for wheelchair users can be more than just staring at the ocean from a distance.
UMOJA partnered with Mumbai firm FerroEquip to bring imported floating wheelchairs to the festival, thus bringing in the accessibility dimension to the festival.
Larger wheels also allow users to manoevre on the sand and venture into the waters, riding the waves with only some assistance.
Jagganath Sahu and the sands of time. Pics/PAMELA D'MELLO
"IâÂÂam 50 and it was my first ever experience of seawater, simply because of the accessibility. Experiencing the waves was a life-cherishing experience," Padma Govindugari said, as we saw her at Candolim beach yesterday (Thursday) morning. Floating wheelchair ride done, Govindugari, who travelled from Hyderabad with her sister for the #BeachFest, was relaxing on a sun bed at Candolim beach. "I am getting a chance to do this at my age. But younger people should not miss out. Because of inaccessibility, we miss out on a lot of things. That must change. Every beach should have accessibility ramps and facilities for wheelchair users," she said.
Yeshwant Holkar and Benjamin Musgrave, founders of UMOJA, agree. The duo spent weeks getting permissions to create a makeshift ramp from the road down to the beach.
Sunita Sancheti and Neenu Kewlani soak up the sun at the beach
"That was the tough part, but we managed to get local authorities to partner with us," Holkar explained. The Disability Rights Association of Goa and Dhristi lifeguards are working with the festival, the latter providing the personnel to assist users on the floating wheelchair.
"It is well worth the trouble. The people are having a blast. It is safe for them too," said Musgrave. His words were borne out by those frolicking on the beach. "It was great fun but now I am cold," said Mumbaikar Zinnia Malegamwala (29), who was heading off to get dry. "I have been in swimming pools before, but it was the first time I went in that deep into the ocean water yesterday. It was fun, but the waves were a bit scary," said Dhruv Shirpurkar (16). Fifteen minutes later, he was strapped in the floating wheelchair for another ride.
Candolim calling for Zinia Malegamwala
Colaba-based Jagganath Sahu (24) who was sponsored, along with his mother, for a four-day BeachFest holiday by Able Disabled All People Together ( (ADAPT), appeared enthused after his ride. Waiting his turn and watching warily from his wheelchair was Pranay Patil (20), also sponsored by ADAPT. "It is his first time on a beach in Goa. He will be going into the water for the first time, since he is normally scared of water," said his father Vilas Patil. Family holidays are restricted to Alibag and a relative's place, says Vilas.
"Wheelchairs and sand don't gel at all. This is a miracle walk to the beach," says Neenu Kewlani. Kewlani and Mumbai friend Sunita Sancheti said they were always pushing the envelope. "We go to movies, clubs, dancing class, everywhere. I have done public speaking and stand up comedy," said Kewlani.
"I have been to beaches with my family, but I always have to sit at the water's edge and watch from a distance. I wish my family were here to see me now," said housewife Sweety Bagga from Hyderabad's Disability NGO 'I AM POSSIBLE'. "We cannot walk but we want to fly," said a smiling Bagga.
Holkar said the festival has shown what is possible and a repeat next year was certainly on the sands. Local authorities seemed keen to help, which has generated a positive buzz, drawing local wheelchair users to the beach as well.
Along with the beach, the organisers had put together a Goa Accessibility Guide to help wheelchair users navigate a holiday in Goa, listing accessible hotels, shacks, museums, restaurants and other facilities. Fun in the sun, though was first on that list. Cheers to Feniland where wheelchairs and water made a perfect cocktail.