Today, I want to talk about my experience of being a disabled sportsperson. I’ve played wheelchair rugby a few times when I didn’t have good stamina back then. I’ve participated in para-swimming competitions and won medals there (national level). I’ve done paramotoring and scuba diving as well, and have been a part of an awareness programme by Chandigarh Spinal Rehab and Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation.
But, is it as attractive as it sounds? Was it as smooth as just jumping into the swimming pool and winning the medal? No! I’ve to be lifted by two people to even get inside a pool! And the risk of hurting my back and bum on the corners is high, which can lead to a skin peel developing in pressure sore, eventually leading to complete bed rest for months! People can even die because of a pressure sore and infection if proper measures aren’t taken!
Let me tell you again, accessibility issues are everywhere. I’ve seen many fellow athletes complaining about inaccessible para-sport event venues. In case you don’t know, Para sports and Paralympics are more like sports for disabled persons and the Olympics for disabled persons respectively. So, these para-sports venues must be inclusive and accessible, you must be thinking, as it is solely for disabled people. But most of the times, it is not. Can you believe it? It’s like making movies without a camera. It’s like politics without corruption. Can you even imagine these things?
I’ll share my experience first. I went to participate in the first national wheelchair rugby competition which was held in Patna. Players were provided with a place to stay in the stadium. The building starts with steps. You cannot get inside the washroom. Why do I keep talking about washrooms in every post? Because it makes things easier to explain. Because, it’s the first thing that we look at, the rest of the things can be managed anyhow.
So the venue was inaccessible. One international level player talked to a god-like political figure (probably the chief guest) about installing a ramp at least. I don’t remember who that political figure was but he looked very powerful as there were many policemen and probably bodyguards. And the way that player asked him (political figure) sounded like he was begging for it. It didn’t sound like it was his right to get an accessible venue. He probably didn’t want to screw the mood of the politician. You have to take care of all these things before raising your voice when you’re disabled. And maybe it worked, I thought. The politician announced that they’ll make a ramp soon. And everyone was happy.
I was given a place to stay in the same building when I went to Patna to be honoured by our honourable Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi. I was one among some 300 disabled people to be honoured by the Government of Bihar for their contribution to sports. No ramp was made in front of the building which was promised a year ago. And the organisers didn’t even care to make temporary ramps at the venue. Even the stage was inaccessible where we were supposed to be given the certificates and all. Atleast there was a temporary ramp during the rugby tournament at the venue! I understand that the disabled are not their priority, and they will maybe manage to make a ramp in a few hundred years.
I was also honoured by the government of Bihar on World Disability Day (for something that I don’t really remember). The situation was not any better. Everything was inaccessible. The organisers of these big state-level events for a person with a disability where bigshot politicians are coming don’t care about accessibility. Why do you think anyone else will think about accessibility? Politicians and political party keep throwing different campaigns and jumlas to give people orgasms but what happens after the announcement? Does anything change?
There are Disability Rights Acts which talk about making buildings and transports and washrooms accessible and inclusive. More types of disabilities were added in the government’s list but did they do anything to change it? Make things smooth? Nothing. Has anything changed? No. Nothing. There’s even a rule that if someone is humiliated because of their disability then they can file a case. But disabled people getting humiliated is normal, be it some sports ground or a train journey. Nothing happens.
Let me tell you, I’m not saying all this without any reasoning. If the things I’ve shared from my personal experience is not enough, Google it. Indians have won so many medals in the Paralympics. The government doesn’t seem to care about these disabled players. They are not given any encouragement, training, name and recognition, and jobs and monetary help like the Olympic players. Players are discriminated against. Funds are issued, campaigns are launched, and we don’t see any change. Many of these athletes come from a rural background and they don’t get the recognition they deserve. They don’t get the support in their district, or even state level, so that they can sweat harder and win medals for India in the Paralympics.
Few political parties go beyond launching campaigns. I remember the day when some Paralympic player joined a political party because, according to them, the political party had worked a lot in the area of disability. A few days later, what I see is that the person is getting lifted because the stage where they’re supposed to campaign is not accessible.
It is humiliating to be lifted by people to reach an inaccessible stage which has been set up for you. It is harassment and humiliation to be called to be honoured for something at an inaccessible place. It is humiliating to not to make any para-sports venue accessible.
When the places meant for disabled people are not accessible, what are the chances any other place will be accessible? How do you expect these players to train and fight the world and manage to sail through the inaccessible venues and win medals for India at the same time they don’t even get recognition?