‘What’s the time by the way?’ Naureen asks as she helps me down the ramp backwards.
‘It’s 10: 45 pm’. I say casually resisting the high pitch of excitement in my voice. Naureen and I had met the same day. We both were from Pakistan and were attending the same meeting. It was time to make best of the meeting and our visit to Bangkok. We decided to hit the streets.
The first thing I noticed about Bangkok were ‘Unnecessary ramps’. Usually whenever I anticipate an uneven level of land, my mind screens the crowd for the friendliest people with appropriate arms to display and a flat temple from whom I can ask for help and also chat for a few minutes as a repayment. Sometimes I also think of the right jokes to crack to lighten their day.
In my life my every decision is taken not by my parents, religion, values or neighbors. It’s taken by a few bricks.
Put them upwards. You just lost a good customer.
Put them downwards. You just found a free consultant.
I am not use to such friendly buildings to be honest. That’s just how it has been. At every point my institutions were first picked for accessibility and later for merit. Today as a professional, I will only work with companies that are fully accessible and I end up working with none. I have a limited number of relatives I like, respect and visit for obvious reasons.
At the age of marriage, I speak to prospects about a fully equipped and accessible house with an Italian kitchen. I bet they paint a picture of a robotic house in their minds and never really touch the subject again.
When it comes to dining out, I have limited places I prefer to go but my phone knows every home delivery outlet in Lahore. For shopping, I don’t like shopping.
While me and Naureen chatted about our lives and walked the street next to our hotel not even once I looked forward to anticipate the passage and only looked sideways to smile at passers. We crossed many tiny shops, seven eleven outlets and massage parlors. Each giving me a new idea of a possibility.
I found myself really different when I am in Bangkok. There is a strange sense of confidence in me that I keep questioning. Usually my intake of food is not defined by my choice but my bladder. In Bangkok I eat and drink in joy. I gulp down my favorite milkshakes and can have a tea after meal whenever I want because there will always be a wheelchair friendly washroom around.
I find myself more productive, more cheerful and more adventurous. I am more willing to take risks and discover the other side of the wall. But it all turns to bitterness in my mouth the moment I am on my flight back to Pakistan where I know my mobility obstacles await me just like I left them. The moment I will land on the airport I would just have to take help from some random porter who will end up harassing me for money later.
Talking of flights and airports, I have always seen three types of people using wheelchairs. Elderly, Pregnant women and accident victims. Anyone can fall into these categories. Then why does the world expect a permanently disabled person to ‘fight’ and ‘advocate’ for accessibility? Isn’t investing in accessibility also investing in the security of each and everyone’s future?
Today I want to question every leader, advocate, builder, architect and everyone.
Who do you love the most?
Are you waiting for them to fall into any of the category above?
And then take action?
Isn’t this the best time to realize?
To make your city, a city of confidence?