DUBAI // A young wheelchair user has set a target of getting 50 new ramps installed around Dubai to help people with mobility problems remain independent.
Shobhika Kalra, 24, will work with authorities and local businesses to make more sidewalks, stadiums, cafes, banks and parks accessible to the elderly, people with special needs and families with strollers.
“You get to be independent, even I should be,” said Ms Kalra, who was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia when she was 13. The rare disorder causes nervous system damage and impairs muscle coordination.
“Metro stations are wheelchair friendly but in many places a sidewalk has a ramp on one side and not the other. Only someone in a wheelchair will realise how important this is.”
Along with a group of 15 volunteers, Ms Kalra has worked with car companies, stores and the Roads and Transport Authority to identify and build eight dropped curbs and ramps near car showrooms in Deira and ramps to sidewalks outside Rashidiya and Emirates metro stations as well as grocery stores in Jumeirah, with 10 more to be added in the next few months.
“People in wheelchairs also have the right to live like anyone else. Dubai is not wheelchair friendly so I’m trying my best to make it. RTA officials have been very helpful. This is not just for me, it will help others. It’s a just a simple message of easy access for us all,” she said.
Ms Kalra aims to usher in change not just across the UAE. She has an ambitious aim to reach other cities such as Bengaluru (Bangalore), India and Colombo, Sri Lanka by motivating dedicated volunteers through social media posts including her Facebook page WingsOfAngelz.
Her message is direct: Whenever you find somewhere that does not have a ramp/ wheelchair access, take a picture, post it and tag the organisation.
“Let us make our planet a wheelchair friendly place,” said Ms Kalra.
Her page has attracted disabled people from across the world to list the challenges they face when accessing buildings or traveling along streets.
“At the high court of Karnataka, Bengaluru where I needed to sign a document - how am I supposed to ascend without a ramp?” is an anxious query from India.
“We want to spread the word and make all places equally wheelchair, stroller friendly,” said Reuben Samuel, 25, a volunteer who works in a family trading business.
“We take the ability to walk for granted but when a person like Shobhika who is independent sees a bunch of stairs she has to ask for help. That’s a basic struggle. We’re hoping more people will get involved.”
Gulshan Kavarana, founder of the Special Families Support Group, said it was important everyone helps out.
“It’s the responsibility of us all,” said Mrs Kavarana, who often struggles to take her daughter to spas and restaurants. Her daughter has Dravet’s Syndrome, a condition characterised by severe epileptic seizures leading to disabilities and requiring the use of a wheelchair.
“Why can’t my daughter use the sauna and spa like everyone else? Even some clinics don’t have ramps, it’s ridiculous. They say, ‘Oh she is in a wheelchair, we will get back to you.’ Once we start accepting them as people and not see their chair, the world will be a better place.”
Ms Kalra does not allow her condition to restrict her. She works as an administrative assistant for her mother who is a psychologist.
But instead of travelling with her mother by car to their Deira office, she negotiates the busy streets of Rashidiya and Deira in her wheelchair to get to the metro.
“I like going on my own by the metro,” she said. “But there are no ramps to the footpath so it gets dangerous because I have to get on the roads. In the evening it gets scary because cars are in full speed, it’s dark and I’m travelling in the same direction as the traffic.”
Reach Wingz of Angelz on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WingsOfAngelz, Twitter: @wings_of_angelz and Instagram @wingsofangelz