How I overcame: From a wheelchair to dating apps, my 2018 was all about small challenges and bigger victories

I suffered an injury in 2014, leaving me paralysed waist down. But I have taken on every challenge and in 2018, as my social initiatives gathered pace, I overcame fears holding me back from exploring dating apps.

 |  6-minute read |   31-12-2018
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Each year comes with a renewed sense of hope, excitement, promises and expectations. But whether we really walk the talk during the course of the year eventually decides how we look back at a year. 

Having suffered a spinal cord injury in 2014, which left me paralysed waist down, each year since then has been a rigorous and dedicated physiotherapy regime to make small steps to live a life outside the wheelchair. But it is this arc of transition, between sitting on a wheelchair and standing tall on my feet, which has actually instilled in me the real essence of life.

Let us have a look at what 2018 added to this beautiful arc of transition in my life.

prateek_123018021714.jpgI began feeling positive about the progress I started making by the end of 2017. (Picture: Author) 

By the end of 2017, I was someone who was still making use of a wheelchair but was learning to walk better and was positive with his recovery progress. I was someone who, although confident enough and who loved meeting people, had no place other than five-star hotels to meet them at as local eateries were inaccessible for wheelchair users. I was also someone who, though I got significant media coverage in 2017 due to my popular recovery videos on YouTube, had no constructive way to help those thousands of people who contacted me, often looking for hope against the prognosis they were given after suffering a spinal cord injury. 

And personally, I was also someone who, though living with an injury, its challenges and its recovery, was looking to date someone because I thought I bring something special to the table just by the way I have gone about handling a debilitating incident.

prateek-with-mom_123018021735.jpgEvery small step, and every big hug, counts. (Picture: Author)

In January 2018, I became the founder of two initiatives — #RampMyCity and Spinal Cord Injury Home Recovery Solutions.

#RampMyCity started as a simple appeal to restaurants to provide accessibility for wheelchair users into their eateries by providing a portable ramp in case they have steps at the point of entry. In the first five months, eight restaurants in Bangalore got ramped just by the way of appeals. 

But what came with it were faulty ramp designs, restaurant staff’s unawareness of how to safely handle a wheelchair user, and a restaurant’s inability to provide an end-to-end service experience to a differently abled person.

In the next phase of #RampMyCity, the campaign evolved to choosing restaurants with feasible ramp possibility, providing ramp design solutions, training restaurant staff on wheelchair handling and enabling a restaurant to provide a complete service experience for a wheelchair user. 

prateek2_123018021855.jpgParty time! The victories that make us smile. (Picture: Author)

About 16 restaurants got ramped in less than 10 months of 2018 — making it India’s first campaign to have achieved this.

#RampMyCity has gone on to host gaming and bowling events for differently abled persons. And a very special pre-Christmas lunch party for differently abled kids — who have never been to a restaurant.  

The most important learning of the campaign is that the world is not a bad place out there. People are ready to help you, provided they get the right guidance. So, stop cribbing and complaining. Rather, take hold of the action items and train people on how to provide the facilities that you require as a wheelchair user.

You have a special opportunity to do something spectacular for thousands of differently abled people in a country which lacks infrastructure and sensitisation. Make use of this opportunity.

That is exactly why you are SPECIALLY abled!

In the earlier part of 2018, I also launched — with my physiotherapist, Dr Pradeep Thotekat — India’s first Spinal Cord Injury Home Recovery Solutions Program, where, through online consultation, we design customised exercises and diet programmes for people suffering from spinal cord injuries. People can now exercise at home, which would help them move towards their next recovery goal and thereby improve their quality of lives.

exercises_123018021801.jpgA social initiative that helps people access information and customised exercises to assist with recovery. (Picture: Author) 

Our programme has not only reached people living in small towns and villages of India, who have no access to effective physiotherapy, but it has now gone international, where people from different countries are enrolling with us as they have now started believing what we always believed in — recovery is possible by following a correct exercise regime, which actively recruits a human’s nervous system damaged due to injury. 

The greatest learning of this initiative has been that by sharing my knowledge about spinal cord injury and recovery, not only have I been left overwhelmed after seeing people who once thought that death was an easier option to lead a better quality of life, but the knowledge transfer has given me insights into my own recovery — and made me find answers to issues I was facing.

In hindsight, the more I gave, the more I got in return. A beautiful learning learnt in real time. Thank you, life!

While the two social initiatives were gathering pace, I thought of doing something for myself personally as my singlehood was getting boring. So, I decided to take a plunge into the elusive world of dating apps — a decision which was a brave one, to say the least, for anyone who is differently abled or using a wheelchair, just because of the way people on the other end view you as — “Are you even supposed to be on a dating platform?”, “I cannot be more than friends with you”,  “It’s weird to sit with him”, “What will people think of me?”, “How will I go dancing with him?”, “He cannot perform in bed”. 

christmas_123018021927.jpgReach out: It is vital we offer our insights and support to others around us. (Picture: Author) 

There is a straight in-your-face rejection by much-hyped 'intellectuals', who say they want to connect with a person’s mind, heart and soul — but in reality, their perception of you doesn’t move beyond your physicality. 

But such rejections never shook my confidence because I knew the right person will figure that I bring something special with me – I look good, carry myself well, talk sense, am witty and spontaneous, can have deep conversations based on my experiences, am loyal and doing something meaningful in life — I was ticking a lot of boxes. I went on to meet and have great connections with some wonderful people, which may not have translated into a romantic relationship, but certainly added beautiful colours to this phase of my life.

And how did this happen? 

Because living outside my comfort zone and putting myself out there converted the fear of a challenge into an exciting opportunity. Nothing in life is going to be served on a platter to you — so, take rejections with a pinch of salt, and keep pursuing what you want from life!

What does 2019 have in store for me?

I am looking to taking #RampMyCity to tier-2 restaurants in Bengaluru and also looking at the possibilities of scaling it to different cities in India. Spinal Cord Injury Home Recovery Solutions is moving towards training physiotherapists in towns around our country, where people can personally pay a visit and seek treatment. 

As far as dating is concerned, I continue to enjoy my singlehood while meeting some interesting people around me. 

I have never worried about what the past did or what the future holds — all I own is this moment and I am living every bit of it!

Happy 2019!

Also Read: Why I decided to #RampMyCity and make it accessible for wheelchair users like me

Writer

Prateek Khandelwal Prateek Khandelwal

Prateek Khandewal is a Bangalore-based entrepreneur who kickstarted the #RampMyCity campaign on social media. Prateek suffered a T12 incomplete spinal cord injury in May 2014.

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