New Delhi: Sensitisation and awareness are crucial in creating a more inclusive and accessible society. They help break down stereotypes and myths surrounding disability. They create an environment where the value and contribution of people with disabilities are recognised by everyone. Virali Modi, a disability rights activist and India’s first wheelchair-using model, is doing her bit to help build a society that is more respectful and supportive of diversity.
On being called upon by the specially abled, Ms. Modi said,
Can I tell you one thing? Please don’t call me specially abled. You can call me disabled if you want.
Ms. Modi’s positivity is what has got her through the tough phases of her life. Speaking to the NDTV team, she said she doesn’t want to be treated as a special entity, and that’s her fight, a simple fight with a simpler goal – to not be stared at or treated differently.
Ms. Modi vehemently advocates that the responsibility for creating an inclusive and safe society should be everyone’s, not just those who are disabled. That is exactly what her campaign, #MyTrainToo was about. More than six lakh people have signed her petition to bring about a change to achieve accessibility in rail travel for all.
Talking about her initiative #MyTrainToo, Ms. Modi detailed,
I started the campaign #MyTrainToo in 2017, and the reason I started that was because when I moved to India in 2008, I was actually molested by the porters while trying to get onto a train because of inaccessibility.
In 2016, when the disability rights bill was passed, and in 2017, a train was launched that marketed itself as being disabled-friendly, but it did not cater to people with locomotor disabilities.
At the time, I launched a campaign on change.org called hashtag #MyTrainToo. A railway official from Kerala, along with me, made nine stations totally wheelchair accessible without any renovations, by providing portable ramps and small aisle-sized wheelchairs.
The duo also sensitised the railway staff through local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Ms. Modi makes it sound easy. But she’s travelled a long, tough road to get here. She wasn’t born with a disability. At the age of 14, she went into a coma for 23 days and was declared dead three times. At this age, she had to relearn her ways of life. Detailing what she went through, Ms. Modi said,
That time, I had come to India to visit my extended family, and I suddenly started getting fevers, and malaria. I was taken to the emergency room, where the doctors conducted all the required tests. I tested negative for malaria and other tests. Again, I went back home. The next day I woke up, and I was hallucinating. I can’t recognise my own mother. Five minutes later, I’m totally fine, and then I get up to walk, and I’m limping.
Despite facing multiple rough patches in her life, Ms. Modi stands proud of her being and intends to normalise every way of living. An active dancer as a child, Ms. Modi is now a motivational speaker, disability rights activist, and India’s first wheelchair-using model. She scored the second position in the Miss Wheelchair India pageant in 2014.
Ms. Modi has an active presence on social media and has quite a following too. She believes that sensitising people to disabilities should be an ongoing process that will help disabled people achieve their individual potential. By continually working to increase awareness and understanding of disability, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diarrhoea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.