Four persons touring India on wheelchairs, braving disability

Ask them how they feel about India, the fearless four from Mumbai on wheelchairs, who have visited 40 cities and covered around 16,000 km in 68 days, say in chorus “Incredible!”

“India is amazing, beautiful… we have taken over 10,000 photographs,” says Neenu Kewlani, who is a member of the team from Vijay Merchant Rehabilitation Centre for the Disabled, which is finding how disabled-friendly India is.

But they have had mixed experiences, especially at temples and tourist destinations on their wheelchairs. “At the Tirupathi temple despite having VIP passes, we were not treated properly… the special timing for disabled and elderly is of no use. You are made to leave your wheelchairs, crutches or walkers and someone has to carry you to the sanctum sanctorum. There is no provision for a ‘dholi' or wheelchair,” said Nishant Khade.

“Mumbai Siddhi Vinayak and Shirdi Sai Baba temples have ramps and special entry points so that we can enter without any hassle and also not disturb others” said Ms.Kewlani, who said her arms were still aching after Sunday's trip to Tirupathi. The fourth member, Arvind Prabhoo, could not travel around Chennai on Monday after the Tirupathi trip.

Of the four who are wheelchair users, two of them are quadriplegic and two of them are paraplegic. Three members of the group visited Valluvar Kottam in Chennai on Monday. “This place is hardly disabled-friendly. We had to be carried up the steps to the auditorium. We cannot access the green room or toilets or the auditorium or the first floor. They could have at least provided lifts,” said Sunitha Sancheti.

They were part of the celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities of Sukriti Social Foundation. Sowmya Simhan of Sukriti said that accessibility was an issue that hampered the growth and the development of persons with disabilities. “Office buildings and school buildings are not accessible to all,” she said.

Their trip is being sponsored and supported by various persons and foundations. In Chennai Hotel Savera is hosting them. From here, they would be proceeding to Puducherry, Kanyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram.

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Deepa H. RamakrishnanJune 28, 2012