DUBAI: A young woman in Dubai, who refuses to let a crippling medical condition get in her way, is making huge strides by turning the city into a more wheelchair-friendly place.
Shobhika Kalra, 25, who suffers from a degenerative disorder called Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA) which damages the nerves, muscles and heart, told XPRESS that she had managed to get 175 ramps constructed across offices, restaurants and other public places under an initiative – Wings of Angelz - she started with her sister Ruchika to help those with mobility issues.
“Of these, 150 have been completed while 25 are under construction,” said Shobhika, who also moves around on a wheelchair.
The Kalra sisters, it turns out, realised the need for such a drive on a visit to Delhi, India, in 2014. “We wanted to watch a movie at a cinema hall but the place could not be accessed by wheelchair. Shobhika had to be lifted by five people to her seat. The manager was very unsupportive and it made us realise that there was a genuine lack of awareness about the need for ramps,” recalled Ruchika.
She said when they come back to Dubai, they found many buildings were out of bounds for special needs people because they were not wheelchair-friendly. “That’s when the idea of getting ramps constructed hit us.”
The Kalra sisters said the response to their initiative has been overwhelming. “Invariably, it’s just a question of making people aware of the need. Once the realisation dawns, they readily get the ramp installed. The cost is nominal, with a simple portable ramp coming for as little as Dh200,” said Ruchika.
The Wings of Angelz initiative, which has over 20 volunteers, has been able to connect with a diverse range of organisations, from government departments and developers to private operators at restaurants, shops and offices.
“It’s amazing how Shobhika has been able to get her message across,” said Reuben Zachariah Samuel, who helps coordinate her efforts.
He said Shobhika, who works as a product development specialist at Eduscan after completing her masters in psychology, is fiercely independent. “She once undertook a recce of the Metro Station surroundings and discovered that while the stations themselves were wheelchair friendly, the pavements leadeing to the stations were not. So she brought this to the notice of the Roads and Transport Authority.”
Shobhika’s work has been widely acknowledged. Speaking at a recent panel discussion organised by Emirates NBD ahead of the opening of its first disabled-friendly branch in Jumeirah, Suvo Sarkar, the bank’s senior executive vice-president and group head – retail banking and wealth management, said, “The feedback from Wings for Angelz carried an end-user perspective and has been invaluable in helping Emirates NBD enhance accessibility and customer experience for people with disabilities. As part of our #TogetherLimitless platform, we continue to collaborate with Shobhika and her team to build better service, facilities and infrastructure for our customers.”
Ahmed Altarawneh, senior specialist at RTA, said, “Shobhika has shown great personal care and attention to issues faced by people with mobility challenges.”
Last week, when the ramps at two BOXPARK restaurants Yogurtland and Markette were ready, Fredrik Van Rooyen, head of operations, F&B, Alabbar Enterprises, said: “We are thankful for the partnership with Wings of Angelz and glad to be among the locations to install ramps which enable us to host visitors with physical challenges, giving them the chance to enjoy dining at Yogurtland and Markette at BOXPARK at ease.”
YOUSPEAK: What other disabled-friendly steps should Dubai take?