This experience has been compiled by Manjunath Reddy.
Sixty-six employees of APD attended the 3-day Second Indian Congress for Persons with Disabilities in Bangalore. The Congress is a civil society initiative supported by the government, citizens and the business community that aims to change society's attitudes towards people with disabilities and therefore to improve the quality of their lives.
Day 1 - 29th April 2019
The day started with bustling activities of setting up the stage, organizing the registration counter … every available hand was used.
The stage was ready by 9:30 am. The delegates started arriving and were requested to have breakfast. The inauguration started with a convocation song and the lighting of the lamp. Ashwin BN (Organizing Secretary for the Bangalore Congress) welcomed all the guests present for the occasion.
Thomas Kraus, the initiator of such Congresses worldwide, spoke about the Congress for Persons with Disabilities and the positive impact that it has created all over the world from the past 23 years. He appreciated the organizing team for organizing the Indian Congress for consecutive years. He mentioned that after arranging the first Congress it will take a minimum of 3 years to come up with the second one. We were thrilled to be aware of this fact.
Sri Mahanthesh, Founder and Managing Trustee, Samarthanam Trust, spoke about the organisation’s services for the disabled community especially the visually impaired.
Swarnalatha, Managing Trustee, Swarga Foundation, spoke about how multiple sclerosis affected her life and how she recovered from depression and difficulties to start Swarga Foundation which is now making an impact in Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu. The audience was inspired by her positive attitude. She concluded her speech by singing a Bollywood song. The delegates were spellbound listening to her voice and enjoyed every moment.
The day continued with a panel discussion on Banking and Financial Management for Persons with Disabilities. Prashanth Kamath from Mindtree introduced different channels of investing money in banking and financial institution. The panellists discussed various challenges and solutions for including persons with disabilities.
In the second half of the day, we had a panel discussion on Acceptance of Disabilities moderated by Ratna Isaac, a psychologist. We had a mixed group of panellists with persons with disabilities, siblings, parents and peers. The situations and emotions of the panellists moved the hearts and minds of the audience present. The courage and determination of the panellists were much appreciated and ended on a positive note that "This too shall pass."
The next event was a workshop by Srishti from Blind Rocks, Nepal who made the delegates follow her dance steps. The participants learnt some cool moves. All the delegate,s irrespective of their disabilities, were high-spirited and energetic through the whole event.
This was followed by a workshop on self-defence with Jujitsu. The group of instructors showed us different moves and techniques to defend ourselves. The delegates on wheelchairs were also included in the demos and they enjoyed every moment of this learning.
The evening brought cultural programs from artists from Samarthanam Trust. The Bharathnatyam and Kannada folk songs were highlights of the evening. The delegates retired for the day after having a good dinner at Samarthanam Trust.
Day 2 - 30th April 2019
On Tuesday morning, customised buses from APD ferried the delegates to Anemane Farm (Sohum Centre for Wellbeing), an organic farm. After a delicious breakfast, all the delegates were ready to trek and get their hands dirty. Ramaraani, who runs the farm, took a workshop on making seed balls, preparing the soil for planting seeds.
The delegates enjoyed the pleasant breeze and the greenery at the farm. They were few delegates who trekked up to a well and some who were content sitting in the Anemane (Elephant House) and interacting with peer groups. The delegates were treated with a healthy juice and banana salad by Ramaraani.
The delegates headed back to the Congress venue while playing Anthakshari in the bus. The delegates were given a good lunch. It was followed by a panel discussion on Employment and Workplace solutions for Persons with Disabilities. This was moderated by Thomas Kraus himself. The panellists discussed how disability could be made an advantage for employment and workplaces. The panellists felt that we should have more Congresses organized to voice the aspirations of persons with disability for employment and social life in general.
After the panel discussion, another round of jujitsu workshop commenced. This time the delegates were taught advanced skills. This was followed by a musical evening followed by a band singing Kannada and Hindi film songs. The delegates from APD and other people danced to the melodies played by Chethan and his group.
A panel discussion on adaptive sports was moderated by Suneel Jain, Founder, Trustee and Chief Enabler of Astha Foundation. The panellists were Vishal Swimmer, Sathish who plays BOCCIA and Nalina Girish, a lawn tennis player. The panellists discussed the various sports disabled persons can participate in and inspire others. Suneel Jain presented the movement of Para Olympics for the persons with Disabilities and its positive impact on the lives of persons affected with Disabilities. The discussion concluded urging the government to act on passing the bill for sports for persons with disabilities.
The evening ended well where the delegates enjoyed singing and dancing. The delegates from APD were not just more in numbers but also in energy and spirits. We still hum the folk songs we heard at the Anemane organic. The delegates on wheelchairs were also seen dancing with few abled persons, interacting and taking selfies with their new friends at the Congress.
After having a good dinner everyone retired for the day in their bunk beds.
All through the day, our friends volunteered to help us push the wheelchairs through the rough terrains of the organic farm. A special thanks to the staff of Samarthanam Trust who ensured everyone’s comfort.
Day 3 - 1st May 2019
The day started with brisk activities for Run for Inclusion. The volunteers from Runners High actively involved participants to register for the event. The Run was flagged off at 7:00 am where more than a hundred runners took on the 5 km jaunt from Samarthanam Trust. The run was truly inclusive with participants and delegates on wheelchairs paired together, running towards the finishing line. The participants signed the banner and left a permanent impression on the minds of the organizers and the community. The participants were later served upma, idly and Kesari bath for breakfast.
We began preparing for the Valedictory Function. Dr Aishwarya, a paediatrician from Chennai was the chief guest. Thomas Kraus, Mahanthesh, Samarthanam Trust, Sristi, Blind Rocks, Nepal, Akila Vaidhyanathan, Amaze Charitable Trust and Micky Joseph, Manager, Nandhavanam, Chennai were present on the stage.
Naleena spoke about her experience of the Bangalore Congress. Dr Aishwarya spoke about the importance of voting and the representation of persons with disabilities in leadership roles in the community and in future elections. She talked about the state of polling booths not being accessible for persons with disabilities despite having ramps. Thomas spoke about the feedback on the Bangalore Congress and encouraged the organizing teams to conduct Congresses for consecutive years.
After the Valedictory session, there was a spirited dance performance by Srishti. The audience was spellbound, admiring the elegant dance moves of Srishti. After the valedictory session and Srishti’s dance, the delegates moved to the nearby playgrounds to watch the visually impaired and Karnataka state wheelchair cricket team play the adapted cricket matches. There was no doubt in the spectator’s mind on why both the cricket teams are world champions. They showed exceptional enthusiasm and energy on the ground.
After the cricket match, the delegates headed back to the Congress venue for a delicious lunch. The hall was prepped up for Boccia organized by Sathish from Vidyasagar, Chennai and few adaptive games with Assistive Technology by Sathish – Special Educator, Amaze Charitable Trust. The delegates participated with enthusiasm, learning and playing at the same time.
The Congress concluded with a group photo of delegates and the organising team.