Navigating Expo 2020 Dubai on a wheelchair
Navigating Expo 2020 Dubai on a wheelchair Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan/GulfNews

Here’s a confession: Three weeks’ ago, I fractured my foot and found myself in a blue cast to treat what the doctor called a break on my 4th metatarsal bone. It just meant that I was in soul-crushing pain and I had to elevate my foot while working from home. But being in a cast for weeks together can alter your perspective on life. Suddenly, even going to the bathroom can seem like a Herculean task, and lie awake at night wondering if your life as you knew it will ever return.

Just as I had resigned my life to six weeks of immobility, two words yanked me out of my self-pity mode. ‘Ranbir Kapoor’. A poster of the beatific Bollywood actor claiming that he will be at the Expo 2020 grounds to talk football and films made me want to cover the event.

Ranbir Kapoor Expo 1 lead-1644760331680
Ranbir Kapoor attends the Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

As an entertainment journalist who drinks, sleeps and breathes Bollywood, the idea of passing up on this assignment felt like sacrilege.

The next thing I know I was on the Expo 2020 Dubai website reading furiously about wheel-chair assistance and how I can utilise what it had to offer.

I will never forget my husband and my friend’s look on their faces when I told them that I intend to head to Dubai Expo 2020 to cover Ranbir Kapoor’s visit. They kept asking me, gently, if it was a good idea so early in the cast healing process.

All set to head to the Jubilee Park at the Expo 2020
All set to head to the Jubilee Park at the Expo 2020 Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan

But first things first, I convinced my best pal to drive me to Expo 2020. Once she dropped me at the Sustainability Pavilion Gate, a guard who had observed my bright blue cast told my friend that he has called for a golf cart to ferry me to the security counters and the mouth of the Expo 2020.

I had already informed the Public Relations team of Expo 2020 looking after Ranbir Kapoor’s visit of my limited-movement situation and they had promised to arrange a buggy to take me to the Jubilee Park, where the event was taking place. But what they didn’t factor in was how do I get from the parking area to the security gate.

And you must keep in mind that Expo 2020 Dubai runs like a well-oiled machine because there are checks and balances in place. So, a cart stationed at the parking cannot go beyond the security area or the cart meant to transport you within the pavilions cannot go past a certain point. But to my surprise, every person that I encountered had this willingness to help. They took me under their wing even without having to ask.

The staff at Expo 2020 Dubai always ready to help
The staff at Expo 2020 Dubai always ready to help Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan

The gentleman at the gate outside made sure that I had a golf cart at my service. The only thing that I had to do was mentally gear up to hobble from one cart to the other. But once that was done, they took over.

My first stop was to go get a wheelchair along with my friend. She gave her emirates ID and in return came back with a wheelchair. The buggy that would cart me from the security clearance gate to the Jubilee Park had a ramp that allowed us to sit on my wheelchair and be transported into the vehicle. And our kind driver was more than eager to help. Once we had the wheelchair in our hands, we felt more confident. For those wondering, even though it was a Sunday and it was packed, there was a good stock of wheelchairs. It’s free, but you need someone with you ideally to help push you around if you aren’t strong enough to wheel it around yourself.

Always a helping hand extended at Expo 2020 Dubai
Always a helping hand extended at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan/GulfNews

But what impressed me truly was the attitude of the Expo 2020 Dubai staff towards a person with a fracture. All of them just went out of their way to make you feel included. While I have heard that Expo 2020 Dubai prides itself in being the most inclusive world fair, to experience it first-hand was a thorough pleasure. The moment someone sees you in a wheelchair, they make space for you.

I made it in good time for Ranbir Kapoor’s interaction. The initial plan was to file the copy from the event and head straight back home. But I hadn’t stepped out for nearly three weeks and being strapped to your couch makes you want to make up for the lost time.

And the friendliness of Expo 2020 staff bolstered my confidence. The fear about how would I tackle Expo 2020 in a fractured foot was replaced by this determination to see a few pavilions along the way.

The kiosk where you can get your wheelchair assistance near the security gate at Expo 2020
The kiosk where you can get your wheelchair assistance near the security gate at Expo 2020 Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan

On my way out, I asked my friend to stop at the UAE pavilion because we had heard such stupendous reviews about it. There was a serpentine queue forming outside it, but my friend and I were let in immediately by the security guard. He made sure that people crowding outside the venue parted to make way for us.

A special route where it was easy to navigate the wheelchair was pointed out and in no time, we were inside marveling at the UAE’s splendid showcase. I also noticed that if you are in a wheelchair, the staff pulls out all forces to make it easier for you.

The winding pathway leading inside was wheel-chair friendly. Even the outdoor restaurant on the first-floor terrace had a lift that accommodates wheelchairs easily.

The UAE pavilion at the Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Expo 2020 Dubai

When you break your bones, your confidence also gets fractured. A sense of displacement fills you and you often wonder if you can do things as seamlessly with a broken foot. But Expo 2020 was like that much-needed balm to your soul.

Even though my fracture would heal in another three weeks, the friendliness and kindness that every stranger and official displayed over my temporary disability made this trip a hugely memorable one. Instead of being overwhelmed by the size and scale of the event, I was just floored by how Dubai Expo 2020 is inclusive in the truest sense.