Can and able

May 25, 2013, 00:51 IST | Fatema Pittalwala and Iram Siddique

Disabled came together in numbers in South Mumbai yesterday calling for greater access to city's facilities

Able Disabled All People Together (ADAPT) launched their new campaign to make Mumbai disabled–friendly at Azad Maidan on Friday evening. The campaign, called ‘Mumbai Rising for Disability Access: We the People Too’ aims at making public amenities accessible to the differently-abled. As one speaker pointed out, “I can’t complain at the government office because the government office is not accessible.”

It is wheel power and will power that form a compelling confluence. Pics/Sameer Markande

Varsha Hooja, CEO and trustee of ADAPT said, “Along with basic physical amenities that the government must provide, one also has to change the way you perceive disabled people. I don’t think of this as a ‘noble cause’. I think it is an individual right, which some people are deprived of. We want to make Mumbai a disabled– friendly city.”

Words and wheels go together here

The protest and campaign was sparked off when wheelchair-bound Malini Chib who is suffering cerebral palsy tried to get on the escalator at Westside’s Fort outlet (there were no elevators) and had a serious fall. Gaurav Mahajan, COO, Westside, bravely stepped up to the dais to address the issue of how the chain of stores is not disabled–friendly.

Turn the negatives into the positives

Said Mahajan, “Westside is with you. We support your cause and not because of laws or moral policing. We are looking at making all stores disabled-friendly and this is not rhetoric. Temporary action is underway but permanent solution will take time. But this is a genuine commitment.”

Neenu Kevlani rallying for a cause

Prominent film director Nagesh Kukunoor who was also present at the event said, “In India, 15 per cent of the population is differently-abled. Every staging like this is a rock in it’s own bucket. If you do not have a show of strength no one will listen to you. At the very least this problem needs to be heard. What was heartening about today was that Westside was here and in a public forum openly admitted their mistake and that is a step in the right direction.”

Malini Chib and Varsha Hooja

Bollywood actor Dia Mirza said enthusiastically, “Movies can be used as a medium to create awareness amongst the masses but to make a change, certainly something more has to be done. The civic authorities are the ones who can bring in the change. Along with major issues that we are talking about here, there are certain small issues that can be resolved like pavements and public toilets, the municipal corporation can make these changes which would initiate a change.” 

Dia Mirza (centre) talks about the need for a more open city

Nilakshi Sengupta said, “Change in mentality is mandatory to bring a change in society. It should be felt in the heart only then can something change.” Responding to these issues, Makarand Narvekar (Corporator A ward) said, “I will use my discretionary powers to make the area under my jurisdiction disabled–friendly. I will make sure that these changes are brought into effect within a year. Also, the problems associated with public toilets would be looked into and necessary changes will be brought in.”

At the meet

Neenu Kevlani, who is a wheelchair-bound volunteer activist with ADAPT said, “It is very important for the mindset of the people to change. Only then will the authorities like the BMC and builders act. The policy is in place, only the implementation is lacking.” Heena Sharma (25), a psychologist who has been working on ADAPT’S survey initiative called Shiksha Sankalp said, “The Right to Education Act makes education compulsory for children between the ages of six to 14.

Nagesh Kukunoor

When we did our survey, we found that many disabled children in the lower income groups did not go to schools mainly due to a lack of information. Parents felt their children won’t do well in schools and so did not enroll them or they were unaware that there are special schools for them or because schools refused to take them.

“Adult differently-abled people did not have a passion or drive initially when they came together to form the Disabled People’s Organisation but that was because their family did everything for them and made them dependent. They were never given a chance to be independent.

They want to get jobs but they do not have education or skills. Over the past eight to nine months, we have been giving them skills training. They gave their own group the name Ujala and said, we want to be the light for ourselves and other people."

At this juncture a girl on crutches who bid Sharma goodbye, added proudly, “I am going home, by bus.” Sharma explained that she is one of those who felt commuting was almost impossible and so stayed at home. “Now she travels by bus and even has a job,” said Sharma proudly.

As a non-disabled person (“I hate the word normal” she says) who is working for the differently abled, she believes changing mindsets is the toughest problem. “The main attitude is still that of pity and charity. They look at the disabled as people who don’t have desires like us, sex drives like us, rights like us.

If someone is physically challenged, they will treat him or her like they have an intellectual impairment. Parents look at their children either as a ‘pichle janam ka paap’ (sin committed in the previous birth) or as ‘God’s special child’.

They will smother them with love instead of providing them ways to stay independent.” She admits that she had some unconscious stereotypes before she started working with ADAPT but after interacting with the ADAPT founders, has learnt to deal with them.

Inputs by Asha Mahadevan 

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