Reuben Samuel, a marketing professional based in Dubai, has been working closely with Shobika Kalra and the group since it began. He coordinates with the volunteers, people and companies in Dubai and organises events to raise awareness about the group and their cause.
As part of the group, he manages something they call ‘Ramp Day’, which is when the volunteers meet up and visit different locations around Dubai to identify places that require ramps.
He said: “Kalra and I have been friends for a while. We used to travel all over Dubai and every time we went out, we would face many obstacles. The initiative isn’t just about helping her, but so many others who live in Dubai and find it hard to travel because they are wheelchair bound.”
When they started speaking to organisations, Samuel said they faced a lot of challenges. Many companies were unaware and believed it to be a non-issue. He would go from door to door and speak to store owners, shopkeepers and restaurant staff about their cause. But, their response would be the same — they didn’t see too many people in wheelchairs.
Samuel said: “They are not living this life and can comfortably walk around. So, they don’t realise that they need to cater to someone on a wheelchair. But, once I would speak to them about Kalra, it would strike a chord.”
Angel Marcini, a legal assistant based in Sharjah, is another one of the core volunteers with the group and has been working with them for almost three years. Her main role is to interact with Zomato, the restaurant search and discovery service, and approach restaurants that require a ramp. In her experience, each day has been different. Some days they encounter people who are supportive and on other days, they run into a wall with people who are disinterested.
She said: “It’s different from location to location. We’ve had some good experiences and after our feedback, the store has built a ramp within a month. But, some people are not as responsive. We’ve been following up with some stores for a year, but no action has been taken.”
With full time jobs, how do these volunteers manage their time? Marcini said that as they walk around their areas during the day time, they keep an eye out for any stores they believe could benefit from a ramp. “It is an on-the-go thing,” she said.
She confesses to not being aware of how big an issue it was till Kalra’s sister came to work for her company.
She said: “Having wheelchair accessibility shouldn’t be an exception, rather a norm. When I looked at things from Kalra’s point of view, I realised that even a small step can be a big deal.”
She expressed her concern over how some ramps around the city are so steep that it would be impossible for anyone to use them. Additionally, some ramps face the main road, making it unsafe for the disabled to use them. With the group, she hopes things change soon.