A debilitating injury brings with it not only a host of health issues but social isolation too.
When I suffered a spinal cord injury in May 2014, I was confronted not only with paralysis waist-down, but also with nervous system damage which affected my body adversely in many other ways.
While recovery from a spinal cord injury is a slow and tedious process, what really brings one’s morale down is the social isolation that takes place of a person, who is now seen just as a patient with eyes of sympathy and pity — leading to his/her further mental breakdown.
Am I welcome here? (Credit: Reuters/representational)
Two years into my injury, I was making considerable progress due to extensive everyday training; I could stand and walk slowly. Climbing the stairs was still work in progress and hence, I was using a wheelchair. During my recovery process, I realised that social rehabilitation was important for me to get back to life. It led to my mental recovery and helped my overall recovery.
My mind, soul and spirit were absolutely free and I was as much a part of this world as anyone else.
But, as I started going out more, I realised that apart from five-star hotels, there were hardly any places I could go to.
Most eateries in my town, Bangalore, had steps right at the point of entry which made them inaccessible. It’s a well-known fact that India, due to its unstructured growth, is far behind in providing accessibility at public/private places to people using wheelchairs.
Differently-abled people practically feel secluded — their presence is not invited. They are, in a way, told to stay at home, confined in their rooms, because anyway, the world outside is not ready to accept them, neither through infrastructure, nor in spirit.
In 2018, I decided that instead of complaining and blaming the government for not doing enough for the differently-abled, let me be a part of the solution and deal with the issue of accessibility to restaurants in my personal capacity.
Come one, come all: Olive Bar and Kitchen. (Image credit: Prateek Khandelwal)
I decided to approach the owners/management teams of restaurants directly and appeal to them in a polite, strong and persuasive way – to get a portable ramp made at the point of entry and make themselves accessible to all.
This movement was named RampMyCity.
The Farzi Café team was the first one to respond. They got a portable ramp made in January 2018. By May, a few other restaurants also joined the campaign – Byg Brewski-Sarjapur Road, Ebony, Rock Salt, Olive Bar and Kitchen, Soda Bottle Opener Wala, Lady Baga and Toast & Tonic.
The list of restaurants could have been bigger, but then, I realised a few of them made faulty ramps and the incline and the slope of the ramp was not taken care of. Not only that, the staff was not aware of how to take a wheelchair up and down the ramp.
Keeping in mind the safety of the wheelchair user, in the next phase of RampMyCity, before approaching the management of any restaurant to get a ramp made, I first started visiting restaurants around the city to see if a ramp was really feasible (with respect to the ramp's slope). I also understood that metallic ramps are more suitable for open spaces and wooden ones for indoors, due to weather conditions. I also started providing architects and vendor support, in case a restaurant chose to outsource the ramp work.
Building bridges: The author addressing a #IBreakTheBarrier talk session. (Image credit: Prateek Khandelwal)
The restaurant team was trained on wheelchair handling and assistance that a wheelchair user would require. The issue of washroom accessibility was also addressed by training the restaurant team to give the entire washroom space to wheelchair-users; in the case of common gender-specific washrooms, this would be done by holding the door for them and politely asking customers to wait for a few minutes.
Isn’t waiting outside a busy washroom a common scenario in your everyday “normal” life? Why make a fuss then?
Some restaurants took an extra step by providing a completely private accessible washroom for wheelchair users too.
As a next step, I started holding #IBreakTheBarrier talk sessions voluntarily at all ramped restaurants to train and educate the restaurant staff on how inclusivity goes beyond an infrastructural change and that they should break mental barriers and provide an end-to-end service experience to people of all physicalities — right from the reservation call to the car drop point to over the ramp to a comfortable table to the washroom to down the ramp and back to the car drop point.
And all this, with a warm smile on their faces.
This would make wheelchair users accepted in real terms.
With restaurants providing them the assistance needed, they too would feel welcomed and could spend fun-filled evenings with their family and friends.
As many as 16 restaurants are now a part of the growing RampMyCity campaign in Bangalore, in just under 10 months.
(New members apart from the one mentioned above include Social, Church Street; Social, Sarjapur Road; Social, Koramangala; Kazé, Byg Brewski, Hennur; Hoot and FoxTrot, Koramangala; Misu, Halcyon Complex).
The enthusiasm of making themselves accessible to all has been great in most restaurants, but I would still admit that for many big brands, the whole idea is still alien and the ramp is stuck somewhere in the management chain.
But I will continue to push them.
What started as a simple appeal has now turned into a full-fledged campaign.
RampMyCity is a platform for restaurants to not only share a common stage for a common cause, but to bring people closer — and to become the glue that holds the city together.