Wheelchairs roll, and rock: Spinal injury patients offer help to live life kingsize

New Delhi, August 29:* Nekram Upadhyay is 34, suffers from polio, walks with a crutch, and has won the prestigious Ford Fellowship.
* Dr Tomasz Tasiemski lost sensation in limbs after an accident, is wheelchair-bound, and the father of two is now a professor at the Institute of Rehabilitation back in Poland.

Disabled? Forget it; they now assists others. To lead a self-dependent life. The conference room at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre is packed with wheelchair-bound individuals who have come to attend the active rehabilitation centre.

“In the West, active rehabilitation is an integral part of treatment after physiotherapy. It’s essential to make people realise that they can live just as well despite their Disability,” says Jyoti Vidhiani, the 2005 recipient of Heinz Fellowship for rehabilitation counselling.

Patients, young and old, crowd around Dr Tasiemski as he demonstrates daily living skills such as moving from a chair to the bed, or moving past obstacles such as stairs. Twenty-three-year-old Ashustosh Upadhyay observes carefully as Dr Tasiemski teaches them simple exercises which can be performed without anybody’s assistance.

“For the disabled, it’s essential to learn to be self dependent as it gives them a reason to live,” says Nekram. The training does not stop at teaching essential wheelchair skills but extends to wheelchair games like table tennis and football, followed by Murderball, a documentary on wheelchair rugby.

An essential part of the active rehabilitation training will be to burst some myths about spinal cord injuries. “In India when someone is wheelchair bound, it is assumed that they can no longer have children. That is not true,” Nekram says. Sexuality and fertility treatment may be a sensitive subject but it is clear that Dr Tasiemski intends to deal with the subject in a straightforward manner. As the head of department, assistive technology, Nekram is keen to talk about the various special devices available to assist the disabled to have healthy sexual relationships.

Both Dr Tasiemski and Nekram agree that perhaps the most important aspect of the training will be to tackle community integration and socialisation. Here the onus is not only on the wheelchair bound but also on the public, particularly in India.

“In the West, the wheelchair-bound people are accepted as part of the society at large. But here they are either stared at or are mollycoddled,” Nekram says. He knows, for he led 12 wheelchair-bound individuals into the popular TGIF restaurant at Saket on Tuesday night. Even as they jostled around minding their own business, people could not stop staring. But that’s not stopping this motley crowd of unique individuals. Tomorrow they plan to have lunch at Dilli Haat.

Mandakini Gahlot

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