By Ruchi Bhimani:
It was a chance meeting with a man on a dating app – a man I later discovered was blind. It changed my perspective on disability completely. I hadn’t imagined that visual impairment, or any other disability, could be regarded as anything but a barrier to experiencing the world.
Being a producer, when I started my company a few months later, it was with the intent to work on projects that are change-making and provoke us to make a shift in our perspective. As I had begun to understand disability with greater intimacy, I started to see travel as a metaphor for breaking barriers, for freedom, and for fundamentally changing prejudiced and regressive mindsets.
We all love travel – for being a window to a wider world, for disrupting the mundane, and for the utter freedom and joy it allows. So, why not be a fly-on-the-wall as we travel with people with disabilities, journeying across the country? Visiting tourist spots and shopping alleys, sampling gastronomic delights, and trying out adventure sports – basically, anybody’s idea of a great vacation.
I decided that the web series format is the right match for this sort of storytelling, considering its organic reach within the country and across continents too, and more importantly, the liberty it can allow us to design things in an honest way, and with integrity. This is how Turning Wheels was envisioned – as a six-part travel web series featuring persons with disabilities.
Now, I needed a director – to give this idea a shape and form, and breathe life into it. I was connected by a common friend to Faraz, and our coffee meeting led to a dinner date, topped off by dessert. We talked for hours, and imagined and wondered what we could make of this. Faraz connected with the idea immediately; with him coming on board, the ideas and excitement around Turning Wheels multiplied.
Once we agreed on the name, Turning Wheels needed a logo. I was connected to a fabulous designer, Suchita Menon, who agreed to get on this ride. We exchanged ideas and references. I battled indecision, and was scolded about the tenets of good design. Finally, we had the affable, warm and beautiful (if I may say so myself!) Turning Wheels logo, that perfectly typifies what the series sets out to be. Eureka!
As we set out to do the research, we saw that there are companies like Planet Abled and Umoja, who are working actively on-ground to promote accessible travel, organising tours and making accessible travel options available at the click of a key. We were excited to reach out to these travel enthusiasts who didn’t allow their disability to be a barrier.
Around that time, I attended a stand up comic act featuring people with disabilities – Sex & Sexability (organised by Crayon Impact). Watching this show made me sit up and take notice of the range of talking points around disability – dating, sex, drinking, pursuing a profession, and simply having fun.
The series would not just be about travel. Faraz and I echoed each other. There’s so much more to talk about, we gushed – so many stereotypes to dispel and disrupt. We were keen to address all this in the series, through stories and conversations, and intimate portrayals of our riders on this journey.
Next, we attended an accessible package tour to Rishikesh, along with three wheelchair users and one visually impaired person. Song and dance around the campfire, chats around the breakfast table, sharing stories over long car-rides, and even adventure sports like river rafting and ziplining. It was exhilarating, as we experienced first-hand travel with persons with disabilities. Things became much more real, and our zest to tell this story to a wider audience only deepened.
We were ready to make this happen. But, where were the funds? After exploring a few avenues, connecting to corporates and CSR initiatives, we realised that we really needed to show that this was a project that needed an entire community to come together – not just the disability community, but anyone who resonated with working towards a more inclusive world.
It is imperative we talk about disability, and refine the way we perceive it. It takes small infrastructural shifts to accommodate for disability, but it is only with a shift in our hearts, that we can start to make a change in our society.
So if you’d like to join our cause, help us make it happen: http://bit.ly/2hmyE8p
The author is a Mumbai-based independent producer, and has worked on films like Ship of Theseus, Kai Po Che and The Insignificant Man in the past. She, now, focuses on non-fiction content with an intent to bring change, under her production house, One-Eyed Turtle Films. Turning Wheels is her first independent project under her new banner.