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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  ARTICLE  
     
  Mobility India  
  Step by step  
   
  BY the grace of God, I am able-bodied. Yet, I shudder at the thought of going to Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in New Delhi because of the steep flight of stairs I have to take to reach the platform. Imagine having to carry heavy luggage with no porters around! Once I injured my elbow, carrying luggage in similar circumstances, necessitating 14 days' treatment at PGIMER, Chandigarh.

If this were the experience of a "normal" person like me, how would a wheelchair-bound person have felt while catching a train at Hazrat Nizamuddin? Unlike me, he would not have felt anything unusual because most of the public buildings and amenities in the country are built and provided for able-bodied persons, not for the differently abled.

In Greater Kailash in South Delhi where I live there are at least half a dozen parks within a radius of 500 meters from my house but not one can be accessed by someone on a wheelchair as the main gates are always locked. Do the wheelchair-bound not require some fresh air, a place to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature and watch the little ones playing hide and seek in the bushes?

However wrong sweeping generalization may be, I cannot help mentioning that we as a society are not conscious of the rights and privileges of the disabled, though they constitute 3 per cent, as the government says, and 10 per cent, as the World Health Organization estimates, of the population. Given this backdrop, I had a pleasant surprise when last week I visited the office of Mobility India at JP Nagar in Bangalore.

It was truly an oasis in the vast desert of neglect of the disabled. A person on a wheelchair can go right up to the second floor using the ramp. If he gets tired, there are plain landing areas on the ramp where he can take some rest before moving further. He can enter all the rooms without having to get down from his wheelchair.

The ramp has tactile floors that allow the blind or the visually impaired to reach any room in the building without any external help. Electric switches, water taps, toilets, door locks are all disabled-friendly. Every nameplate has a braille version. The washbasin in the bathroom is built in such a way that the wheelchair can go inside allowing the person to wash her hands, comfortably seated.

How I wish all public buildings were built in this fashion! The Mobility India office is, perhaps, the most disabled-friendly building in the country. It should, therefore, serve as a model for the building industry. Considerable thought had obviously gone into the construction of the building on a piece of land, given at concessional rates by the Bangalore Development Authority.

Mobility India, as the name suggests, was set up to provide mobility to the disabled, who live in the slums of cities and in the backwaters of rural India. It was the realization of the vision of a Britisher, Kevan Moll, nurtured and developed by Chapal Khasnabis, who joined as first Director.

Khasnabis recruited a young lady Albina Shankar as his private secretary, little knowing that she would eventually steer Mobility India clear of all hurdles in the path of progress. Today it is a unique organization impacting the lives of people not just in the slums of Bangalore but also in the war-torn Gaza in Palestine.

The approach road may be a little convoluted but inside the campus it is a beehive of activity like the huge aquarium in the foyer that has fish of various hues and colours, constantly mobile. People with all kinds of disabilities could be found there, seeking one service or another. One of them was 11-year-old Nandini Ramesh.

She was a bundle of joy for Anasuya and Ramesh when she was born 11 years ago. A few days later she was diagnosed as suffering from jaundice and was provided phototherapy for a few days. As days passed into weeks and weeks into months, realization dawned on the couple that Nandini's growth was inordinately delayed. She did not turn or crawl when she should have and did not attain other such milestones like children her age did.

Worse, Nandini had periodic bouts of epilepsy. She was identified as spastic but that did not reduce the parents' affection for her. Rather, it increased their love. Two years later, they had a normal child, a boy. Bringing up the two children is a tough task when Ramesh is "just a coolie" as Anasuya put it.

The good thing is that he does not have any bad habits and he spends all his earnings on his family's happiness. "Liquor? He does not spend any money on even ghutka (a tobacco product banned in many states)" is Anasuya's certificate for her husband.

Nandini and her mother were at Mobility India that day for a purpose. She had a wheelchair, which was not comfortable and wanted one custom-made for her. They travelled all the way from Hale Chandapura, a village 40 kms away, by bus. Nandini could communicate. She told me that her mother bought her the 'Kurkure' snack packet she was clutching at. Like most children, she seemed to love such munchies.

Nandini was excited about going to Agra, the land of the Taj, where she would attend the First Community Based Rehabilitation World Congress (November 26-28) to be attended by 1200 people from over 90 countries. She would not feel like a fish out of water at Agra, for she likes social events and plays a leading role whenever Balgram Sabha is held at her school.

She and her brother are in the same class. "Nandini likes to go to school. She can write the English and Kannada alphabets and count the numbers but she cannot hold things in her hands. I have to accompany her to the school and remain there till she returns. I wish I were given a job in the school, where in any case I spend almost the whole day".

When she said this I realized the significance of the saying that poverty is the root cause of many disabilities and disabilities increase poverty. For instance, Anasuya cannot work because she has to be around Nandini all the time forcing the family to depend on one income, however meager it may be. There is no escape from poverty. When I asked Nandini what she wanted to become, she did not bat her eyelid, before replying, "teacher".

As Fairlene Soji of CBM, which supports Mobility India, took me around the facility, an idea struck me that the second name for Mobility could be "Innovation".

A few years ago when I was asked to remove my leather shoes to visit the Shankaracharya temple at Srinagar, I realized how difficult it was to climb the snow-clad steps without shoes. Temples can be rigid when it comes to enforcing discipline. A girl using prosthesis was prevented from entering a temple because shoes were not allowed inside. She also had to cross a rivulet to go to school.

For her and many others the artificial limb was more a liability than an asset, for they had to "carry" it. Thus arose the need to innovate the artificial limb to make it flexible, light and convenient to use. Moreover, the wearer could remove the shoe to enter temples for the "Jaipur foot" that is attached to it does not have a heel.

Mamta Kumari from Gaya was happy to show me the unit where artificial limbs were made. A student of Navodaya Vidyalaya, she had no clue what a course in prosthetics and orthotics would entail when on the prompting of a friend, she applied for it. Two years later, she had the happiest moment of her life when a man walked away using the prosthesis she had made with her own hands. She never looked back.

While teaching at Mobility India, she is also doing her M.Sc from Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK. She has no regrets that she jumped into unknown waters when she took up prosthetics and orthotics for studies. Today Mobility India has courses as short as wheelchair service provision training that lasts 10 days to four-year Bachelor in Prosthetics and Orthotics that draws foreigners also.

I met Suresh Naidu, whose leg had to be amputated because of a rare blood disease. A bachelor, he had to give up his job in Mumbai when he lost his limb. He was in Bangalore staying with his brother to have prosthesis. "This is very comfortable and I hope to be able to walk again "normally" in a week or so", said Naidu while practicing in the ramp that had a railing. Outside the building, 17-year-old Sunitha was walking without support on all kinds of terrain -- metaled, muddy and grassy. Watching her happily was her father.

Raju, a physiotherapist, explained to me how simple devices like a special chair can help a disabled person lead a near-normal life. "You may have come across political leaders and philanthropists distributing wheelchairs to people who cannot walk. Little care is shown in finding out whether the chairs fit the beneficiaries".

He showed me a book, which had the WHO imprint. It details how a wheelchair should be made. He also showed me simple devices that help children suffering from cerebral palsy to sit and stand without anyone's support. Any carpenter can make it with some training. "A child's digestive capacity will improve if he is able to stand and sit properly", he added.

And to make the devices appealing to the children by painting them in sharp colours is the job of Jyoti Prakash Singh from Patna, who is a polio victim. After +2 he did a one-year course in Rehabilitation Therapy and is now an employee.

I found the visit to the Jaipur foot unit the most exciting. It is an all-women unit, which makes the celebrated foot that had earned international laurels. The machines required to make Jaipur foot are all heavy and all the women employed in this unit are "disabled". Innovative methods have been employed to help them do their work while sitting comfortably in their chairs. One of them is Latha who is wheelchair-bound.

The last among five siblings, she was born with twisted legs. She used to crawl to school but was a good student. "I could not think of going to college because it was impossible for me to climb stairs". A chance contact with Mobility India transformed her life. She was encouraged to undergo an operation, which made one of her limbs more useful, though walking remained a dream.
She also got a job. Everyday she commutes by a modified Honda Activa scooter. I wanted to see how she transferred herself onto the scooter. She rolled the wheelchair herself, politely declining my offer to help.

At the gate, the gatekeeper came rushing to her aid. He not only brought the scooter close to the wheelchair, he also helped her to climb the vehicle. Once she was on the seat, nobody could make out that she was physically impaired. All the staff are trained and attuned to help the physically and mentally challenged who visit or work in Mobility India.

Albina was busy with making arrangements for the Agra Congress. She told me how women did not want to be measured by men and this prevented them from using artificial limbs. "We sought to address this problem by training women. There is now a group of women, who turned entrepreneurial by making prostheses and is making good money".

Mobility India has a regional resource centre located at Helen Keller Sarani in Kolkata. It could not have found a better address than a street named after the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She told me how the country, particularly the Northeast, needed services of more people trained in prosthetics and orthotics.

As I took leave of Albina Shankar, I could see pasted on the board in her spacious office Mobility India's vision: "An inclusive society where people with disabilities have equal rights and a good quality of life". What a noble cause to pursue in a society that treats disability as a curse heaped on a person for the wrongs committed in his previous birth! Mobility India offers living proof that innovation in a focused manner can help surmount seemingly formidable disabilities. If only attitudinal changes in society were to occur as easily.

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com
Courtesy: Indian Currents (www.indiancurrents.org)
 
  By  A.J. Philip  
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