Anyone who is an avid trekker, nature enthusiast or just loves sitting by a quiet lake on a bright sunny day cannot bear being away from the rustling of trees, the winds that brush against their skin or the rays of the warm sun embracing their body for too long. More so, they can’t keep away from the freedom and thrill the outdoors offer. The great outdoors are always open to everyone. It is your right to experience what it means to be in the open, irrespective if you cycle, skate, run, climb mountains or play sports. The outdoors are open to everyone, including Persons With Disabilities.
Who Are Persons With Disabilities?
As per the UN, the term persons with disabilities is used to apply to all persons with disabilities, including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
But Can PWDs Actually Live On Equal Basis With Others?
Imagine having to deal with an injury that takes a while to heal. You miss out on your morning runs, you’d have to tweak your diet a little, probably give up a trip you were planning because you are unable to move or perform any activity. It is a hindrance. That long awaited weekend ruined by an injury or a temporary disability. Now, imagine living with that injury or disability for life. Imagine not having the chance to see that beautiful sunrise, take a carefree stroll in the park, to cycle, to ride, to run or do something that you would love doing.
No. Persons With Disabilities do not share the same opportunities that able-bodied individuals do but as they say, you can never keep a burning desire down for too long. There are always barriers to the things you want to achieve and you can overcome those barriers. There are always people who will break stereotypes, go against the grain and accomplish something extraordinary.
Paving the Path & Breaking Stereotypes
In 2018, a team of 3 blind climbers and 10 able-bodied individuals from India and Israel took an expedition to Mt Kilimanjaro that stands at about 5,895 meters above sea level. It was India’s first “inclusive climb” to Africa’s tallest peak. The inclusive climb was to question our rigid views about disability and shatter stereotypes that plague Persons With Disabilities.
“The climb was a major challenge but we did it,” said Anusha Subramanian, the expedition leader and who has been working towards building awareness about Inclusion in the outdoors, . “The Kilimanjaro inclusive climb saw participation of visually challenged as well as sighted climbers. This sends out a strong message that all of us are part of the same society. Mountains and the outdoors do not differentiate between anyone, so why is it that we differentiate among people? I have always believed that to change something, you have to be the change yourself. We can, indeed, be inclusive and grow together beautifully.”
In 2019, Anusha Subramanian, along with Sanket Bhirud, who was born blind, took the GOQii Trail Challenge which was a 50km, arduous trail that snaked through Mandangad. It was a challenging trail, not just for Sanket but even the other 120 odd sighted participants. This challenge that Anusha and Sanket undertook was again to build awareness about inclusion of disabled people in the outdoors as well as the lesser privileged.
You will see varied activities such as these where PWDs have sought to break stereotypes by participating in marathons, tandem cycling with an able-bodied person or simply doing what they love, all with an aim to make sports and the outdoors more inclusive to everyone despite their disabilities. Whether disabled or not, we believe that every person has a right to enjoy the outdoors and stay active.
Last, but not the least, always keep in mind that we are all alike in more ways than we are different. PWDs are normal human beings where some just lack the sense of sight, hearing or may not be able to walk but have the same kinds of interests as everyone else. One just needs to take time out to get to know them and then you will understand how cool, fun and alike these guys are. Try it some time!