Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky

India’s first blind paraglider’s vision is giving wings to dreams of differently abled
Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky
Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Lives Run In Tandem

  • Sandra Pereira was the first sponsor for the tandem cycling event. It taught her a few things.
  • Manjiri Latey co-runs a venture for outdoor education and experimental learning.

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Wind in the hair, first brush with underwater marine life, happy exhaustion on reaching the top of a fort, paragliding through a breathtaking mountain range, zooming across the finish line of a marathon: imagine, if you can, all these moments with visually impaired, differently-abled and paraplegic people as participants/performers.

Because adventure sport is seen as something tough even for able-bodied people, its attraction to others is squar­ely denied in a country like India where the differen­tly abled are still fighting for dign­ity, basic rights and ramps in public places.

However, for the past year-and-a-half, Adventures Beyond Barriers by Divyanshu Ganatra (India’s first blind paragli­der) and his team have been organising activities for both able-bodied and diffe­rently-abled people on the same platform.

“People with disability are isolated and never engage with the mainstream. Contrary to what people believe, the biggest challenge is not the disability, but the soc­ial attitude and barriers that come from the mainstream community not understanding us,” says Divyanshu.

“People are told they can’t climb a mountain, can’t scuba-dive, can’t para­glide, so we are creating that space to do it safely. Once you do it, that sense of achievement trans­lates to confidence, motiva­tion, identity and self-est­eem. From blind Divyanshu, I am now pilot Divyanshu. That is a huge shift in the narrative.”

Ask Kartiki Patel, a paraplegic who’s just completed the first level of a scuba-diving course. “Whatever happe­ned in my life, sports has always been there because it takes your mind away (from dep­ression). Adventure sports plays a similar role and helps me with confidence,” says Kartiki, who learnt swimming last year and is a natio­nal-level wheelchair-bound badminton player. This, after meeting with a car acc­ident in 2008 that left her lifeless waist down. “India is not wheel-chair-frien­dly even for day-to-day life. Nobody in India would venture into this, so what ABB is doing is really important. Divyanshu has a vis­ion and wants more differen­tly-abled people to partici­pate. For every able-bodied person who signs up, a disab­led person gets 50 per cent off.”

While sometimes people take long to sign up, many find solace in ABB bec­ause they would have tried something earlier, on their own, but without adequate support. “Earlier also I have gone on treks with my sighted friends but ABB’s plans are meticulous and they have support staff and experts, which is good,” says Shivaji Niv­ant, born blind, who works with the State Bank of Hyderabad in Pune. He enj­oyed the recent tandem cycling events, where the sighted person takes the front seat and the visually challenged person the back seat. The activities are a revelation for able-bodied people. Volunteers and sponsors like Manjiri Latey and Sandra Pereira recognise the impor­tance of the “little joys that the differently-abled are robbed off”.

Harish Raichandani, who has gone on several treks with Divyanshu and has memories of him leading sighted people, says running a marathon with a blind person teaches you a lot. “It is an extremely humbling experience because not only are they equal but often better than able-bodied people,” says Harish who ran with Tri­veni and learnt to communicate, navigate and techniques of touch guidance.

Even as ABB breaks new barriers every day, Divya­nshu is breaking his back to support the initiative. A qualified corporate trainer, he works round the clock to make enough money to keep this going. “What we really want is funding,” he says. “We want to run it on a business model but we need initial capital. We need professional and competent employees.” 


By Prachi Pinglay-Plumber in Mumbai

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