Let me begin with a disclaimer. This piece is not meant to make you cry, or to try and garner sympathetic reactions from you. It is just an attempt at throwing light into how millions of people with disabilities lead a daily life in India.
I have lived most of my life in a wheelchair. This means that I am always dependent on the environment — and society in general — being accessible so that I can lead a life that is as close to normal as possible. In India, this is a very steep ask. You may feel like I am exaggerating for effect or trying to over-amplify facts. What I am going to do is describe a few instances where I tried to do things that the able-bodied would generally do multiple times without much fuss and let you decide how accessible our country is.
You see, wherever you are in India, the possibility of finding a restroom that is wheelchair-friendly is close to impossible
You are in a meeting with a prospect or a client. The meeting stretches a while longer than you anticipated, you need to take a short break, go answer nature’s call and then get back to the meeting and continue. Simple? For you, yes. For me? Not so much!
Here’s why. You see, wherever you are in India, the possibility of finding a restroom that is wheelchair-friendly is close to impossible. By a stroke of luck, if you do manage to find one in a building where you are having a meeting, more often than not the janitorial staff uses the toilet for the wheelchair-bound as a storeroom for cleaning equipment and it is rarely in a usable state. That means you have to then try and find a public toilet that you can use, there too there are clearly insurmountable issues. The first one being the fact that almost all public toilets are on platforms that are so high that people on a wheelchair can never negotiate them or climb up. At best, they need to wait to find good samaritans willing to help lift the wheelchair up and get there. Next, the wheelchair needs to fit into the really narrow space.
“So, don’t you go for meetings? Don’t you work? How do you live?” these are the next questions you have in your mind for me. Yes, I do go to meetings, I do make a living and I do run a family. But what I do is mostly a severe compromise in the name of adjustment. Don’t get it? Let me explain this in detail.
A lot of people like me who are living on wheelchairs have to wear really uncomfortable adult diapers that are meant for the incontinent when we go out. It’s not really an ideal solution
A lot of people like me who are living on wheelchairs have to wear really uncomfortable adult diapers that are meant for the incontinent when we go out. It’s not really an ideal solution. Why? You see, these diapers are designed to saturate easily so that people will buy more of them and there are also physical limits to which they can actually absorb liquids. So if you have a really long meeting, wearing a diaper guarantees you nothing. A completely wet set of pants is just a couple of hours away.
Can’t I just change them after regular intervals? Yes I can, but that is contingent to finding a private place where I can get a couple of people to lift me out of the wheelchair and help me change it. One of them has to hold me and the other has to help me switch. That kind of leeway in an official meeting is 99.99% not possible.
So then what do we do? For the most part, we just hold it and hold it and hold it till we are ready to burst and then we burst, praying all the while that the diaper holds and we don’t wet ourselves. We also carry around a handy bottle of deodorant just in case. But there are human limits and they are real. So we are forced to prepare ourselves using extreme measures when we head out to meetings.
To avoid getting into sticky situations, I generally stop drinking water three hours before I have to head out to a meeting. What I do next is extremely unhealthy but there really is no other alternative, so I take medicine to hold the urge to urinate
To avoid getting into sticky situations, I generally stop drinking water three hours before I have to head out to a meeting. What I do next is extremely unhealthy but there really is no other alternative, so I take medicine to hold the urge to urinate. And I ensure that I empty both my bowel and bladder fully before I get ready to leave for the meeting. Then right through the meeting, I avoid drinking water, soft drinks, coffee or tea. That way, there are no diuretics in the system and hence no urge to relieve myself. Add this to the fact that I am diabetic and you have the perfect recipe for a medical disaster brewing at every long meeting.
So what is the solution? Simple! India starts thinking about the millions of people with disability and actually gets inclusive by building accessible toilets in public spaces to begin with and then ultimately in more private spaces too.
If you already shocked, let me tell you that there are days where there are multiple meetings at multiple venues and sometimes outstation ones too. This is just one of the many embarrassing truths of living a disabled life in India.
Next time, I will tell you about some other aspects of our life. Thanks for lending me your ears or eyes or both.
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Lead visual: Nikhil Raj