Umesh and his brother were born with muscular dystrophy. Umesh's father deserted the family soon after his birth, leaving his mother to raise her two boys by herself. His brother died at the age of 3.
Every day, Umesh's mother would carry him to the street corner where he sold cigarettes, bidis and matchboxes. Earlier this year, the 22-year-old received his first wheelchair.
His wheelchair, which also doubles up as his 'shop', has changed how customers interact with him. They now look him in the eye and sometimes even have conversations with him before walking off. He's also happy that his mother doesn't have to carry him around anymore.
That is empowering nature of aided mobility for the differently-abled.
"I still remember my first wheelchair. The independence that it gave me. And how, it soon became an extension of me, my arms and feet and so much more. Today, I can't Imagine my life without a wheelchair," says Nipun Malhotra, a disability rights activist. Nipun along with his mother is trying to ensure that disabled people get their 'independence' through wheelchairs.
"There are too many people who can't afford wheelchairs, but that shouldn't stop them from moving," he said.
The mother-son duo has started an online portal called 'Wheels For Life,' a website that connects people who need wheelchairs with people who can gift them.
"I want to promote a gifting economy to link those who have been blessed with much more to those who are not," the 28-year-old said, explaining how 'Wheels For Life' works.
Nipun's 'Wheels For Life' has also tied up with a couple of Delhi NGOs so that they can list the disabled people who can't afford wheelchairs.
Then there's breathtaking government apathy. Not only is a disability certificate difficult to get, the official tally on the number of the differently-abled in the country does not match up.
While World Health Organisation (WHO) says 15 percent of the world's population is disabled, the Indian Census pegs the figure at 2.2%.
"It takes a very long time for the government to even recognise one is disabled. Even after filling several forms, people don't get wheelchairs after years of waiting," he said.
Nipun knows how it is to live with the lack of mobility. He was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that leads to a joint contractures. "I didn't have a wheelchair for 4 years, and my mother had to carry me around. That time, we were not made aware of the importance of wheelchairs," he said.
Once he got a wheelchair, it gave him a new lease of life. "I could move around on my own and not depend on anyone else," he said.
Last year, Zomato, the popular restaurant-search website, was forced to feature an added filter- 'Disabled-friendly' after Nipun protested when he was denied entry in an upscale restaurant in Delhi.
A wheelchair costs about Rs 5,000 and anybody who is willing to 'donate' can do that on the site. You can also list someone's name you know who need a wheelchair.
"This platform has been designed to enable people and organisations to request for wheelchairs, and for people to gift them in a simple straight-forward and accessible manner," said Nipun.
Nipun said he wants to build a competitive spirit in this donation so that more people 'compete' with each other and donate more.
While the project is now only based out of Delhi, Nipun says, it will soon expand to other cities.
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