Sanjeev Sachdeva does not call his wheelchair “Freedom” for nothing: it has been the gift of his life. And is he glad about possessing it? “I bought it on June 27, 2011,” he rattled off to everyone’s surprise, but for him the date holds a lot of significance.
“I used to sit in a corner, like a disabled among the disabled, till one of my friends suggested that I buy a motorised wheelchair for myself. It has been a truly godsend experience: it has given me independence and freedom and rest to my caregivers,” said Sanjeev, who gradually began losing control over his muscular movements when he was in his 20s.
“When I would go around in a wheelchair pushed by a carer, there would be a look of pity on the faces around. But now, despite my 100 per cent disability, when I drive by wheelchair around on my own with my chin up, I see that people reach out to me. People driving motorised wheelchairs are treated with respect and dignity. We have to thank Stephen Hawking for this,” he quipped with an air of pride.
Along with mobility, Sanjeev’s sense of self-confidence and belief has also taken a leap. “In my office, my wheelchair allows me the opportunity to move around on my own. In marriages, I am able to take a look around and decide on what I actually want to eat. I also visit malls and shop on my own. But most importantly, I am allowed some privacy as my carer does not have to be with me all the time.”
The five-hour battery back-up even allows him to go out for long drives in his wheelchair. “I often take the Metro on my own and travel. We have been to many places like Qutub Minar, Auto Expo at Pragati Maidan, Surajkund Crafts Mela, Dilli Haat, Airtel Half Marathon and even Beating Retreat. But the best feeling of them all is when you are able to drive down the majestic Rajpath in your wheelchair on your own.”
Neeru Gautam couldn’t agree less. “I was a keen car driver till I developed this debilitating disorder which rendered me 100 per cent disabled. But now I am again 100 per cent independent, thanks to my wheelchair,” said a beaming Neeru, whose life took a turn for the better the day she bought a motorised wheelchair for herself two years ago.
Neeru, who works with NGO Sanjeevani now travels from her home at Patel Nagar to her office at National Trust in Rajinder Nagar daily by her wheelchair. “On seeing me drive like this, and even fetch vegetables and grocery for the family on the way back, many people have made enquiries from me and have gone ahead and purchased such chairs for their parents or others at home, who due to old age or some disease had simply given up on life.”
In fact, many such elderly people have now also started using their wheelchairs for going to parks or temples and being on their own.
Part of “Wheelchair Flying Club”, a group of around 15 motorised wheelchair users who now go out for regular outings, Neeru said these motorised vehicles have given them newfound hope and enthusiasm. “We work in different fields but it is the spirit of being meaningful and enjoying our freedom that binds us together.”
Last year on Independence Day, the group had visited India Gate. It has been exploring other parts of the city as well. “A full charge gives you the power to travel around 10 km in one go. And with chargers available in Metro coaches, the reach extends further.” Little wonder, there is finally no stopping these persons with disabilities in realising the full meaning of independence.