By Vinayana Khurana:
As my parents drop me to college everyday, I feel relieved. A seemingly simple task like taking an auto rickshaw by myself, fills my mind with fear. I wonder – will I ever travel alone in my city – Delhi? Neither does this city – our nation’s capital – have the accessibility nor the sensibility for people like me. On one level, I struggle because of my physical boundation. But on another level I struggle because people don’t understand that my physical limitation is just that – physical. I have cerebral palsy. It is a just a disability in the motor movements of a person. It limits me. But it cannot stop me.
This fighting spirit, I imbibed at my first school and second home – AADI (Action for Ability Development and Inclusion). This was my training ground, where I learned life’s basic techniques. Something as simple as stretching my hand to say ‘Hello’, a thing which no school teaches us. Here our teachers understood our limitations, yet, they knew that we have none.
Here I learnt that I could be an independent girl, and that if not physically, at least mentally I can compete with other children. AADI made me confident. It believed in me, more than I believe in myself. From singing and acting, to anchoring, I did it all in this school, and I still remember the powerful performances I gave on stage. Through their support. I could eventually transfer to a new school – St Mary’s, an institute with inclusive education.
St Mary’s was a different experience. Here I interacted with all types of students of my age and felt motivated to challenge myself even more. Ten years at St Mary’s made me what I am today, a courageous young woman who is not afraid to voice, her thoughts to people around her.
Yet, as I stand at the entrance of my college, every morning, I see the stark difference between my “inside” world and my “outside” world. One knows me – my weaknesses as well as my strengths, knows that I am capable. But that other world thinks I am nothing, and I wonder – why is my outside world not caring, sensitive and encouraging like my inside world, which comprises my schools, my college, my family and friends?
My friends at Vivekananda College, are a blessing; they take me from one class to another, to the canteen, and wherever they are going. It never occurs to them even once to leave me behind due to my physical limitation. Earlier I would move around on a wheelchair. However, it is difficult for my friends to constantly push around a heavy wheelchair, even though there are well-built ramps and lifts inside the campus. So, I have decided to walk, even though it can be cumbersome.
Even my teachers have helped me to go from class to class and they would fight for me, if my class was not on the ground floor. Yes, my teachers are very awesome. At first, they were not able to understand me. But they would put in extra efforts to know me and I am happy to share that my teachers listen to my views, even though I may take a little longer to articulate them.
But this outside world, it makes my heart sink. Many public spaces have no ramps, and if there are ramps, they are not well maintained. Let me give you an example. The other day I went out with my friends and guess what I found at the end of the ramp – a big dustbin! As a result, my wheelchair couldn’t pass through. At another location, there’s a well-built ramp on the roadside for a wheelchair. However, a stream of street shops have been built on the slide of the ramp!
Yes, ramps are being constructed but they are still not solving the problem. Sometimes there is a lift for wheelchair users. However, to get to the lift there are four stairs. How is a wheelchair user supposed to reach the lift if there is no ramp? Due to this inaccessibility, there are many occasions when I have been excluded from my friends’ plans, even though they are wonderful.
You may be under the impression that navigating a big mall on a wheelchair is easier because they have built proper infrastructure for accessibility. Yes, the mall has made all the efforts. Yet the other day I had to wait for an hour to board the lift. You know why? Because people kept streaming inside and there was no way for my wheelchair to go in.
While building ramps and lifts is a basic requirement, there’s a great need to sensitise people. My classmates in school and college, and others whose life I have touched, have become sensitive because of me and they are now able to admit that, “Yes, accessibility is required in every corner of the country.”
I was born and brought up in Delhi, and it is heartbreaking for me to acknowledge that my city is not developing according to my needs. Yet, my aspiration for Delhi is that it should develop into India’s first accessible city. My hope is that someday, I shall be able to go to a movie with my friends, or go shopping alone, without a care in the world.