The First Indian Congress for persons with Disability 1-4 March 2018 , @ Karl Kubel Institute for Development Education , Manakarai , Coimbatore .
The Congress was opened by a few of us lighting a lamp including Thomas Kraus who is the initiator of such Congresses worldwide since about 20 years ago .He joined us all the way from Berlin and along with the District Differentl Abled Welfare Officer, for Coimbatore Thiru Chandrashekar opened the event . We were treated to some mesmerizing music on the keyboards for about an hour by Young Adhitya Venkatesh , 19 from Bangalore who is on the Autism Spectrum .
The performance was followed by a presentation by Thomas Kraus who took us through a photo journey of various Congresses worldwide including the latest ones in Russia and Thailand. In fact the one in YEKATERINBURG ,Russia in 2017 was the first World Congress for Persons with Disability and was attended by 700 delegates worldiwde. Micky Joseph ,Rabindran Issac , Sumanth Iyengar and Vinay from India had attended this Congress that is where the seeds for a similar Congress in India were sown and this was fructified when I [AkilaVaidyanathan] from Amaze trust offered to organize it in Coimbatore . The evening ended with a lilting rendering by one of the volunteers (Ms Emelda, from SEESHA Karunya Community Hospital, Coimbatore.) of the congress theme song “Maname Nee Azhagu ..” [Oh mind you are Beautiful ] penned in Tamil by one of the volunteers Arokiaraj Raji C (SEESHA)
The discussion was interesting and through up answers to questions like “Why do people work “ and Panelists shared “What work meant to them “ ..in fact the discussion opened up to the audience and there was a lot of sharing by persons from the audience also ..for some work meant money , for some it was for the family ,,, yet for some others it was just a routine and for some it was self-actualization.
The last session before lunch was led by young Parameswari who has locomotor challenges from Kollathupalayam village near Coimbatore. She demonstrated how to make a south Indian sweet dish ..”payasam” .She has been learning to cook so she can support her parents in future .She presented with wit and nonchalance and the yummy payasam we all got to taste at lunch was literally the proof of the pudding.
Post lunch Arokia Raj [Visually impaired ] and Ritika Sahni from an NGO Trinayani in Mumbai shared details about the benefits and techniques for Acupressure .The delegates were given early tea and rushed off in vehicles to town where they attended a Classical Violin concert arranged by Amaze trust
The concert was a musical treat led by the talented young Apoorva Krishna …her nimble fingers flew across the violin effortlessly producing soothing and enchanting melodies that kept the audience rapt .There were interactive sections where the percussionists Suand Anoor on Khanjira and Vinod Anoor on Mridangam involved the audience with Konnakol …some thing like the beat boxing of the west where rhythm is produced by the mouth . The Tarisimo Award winning artistes who called themselves the “Bahudhari Ensemble” ensured it was a pleasant experience for all by mixing classical pieces like “Nagumomu “ with popular ones like “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram “. They artistes also performed impromptu with students of Amaze trust …Akash . Saswath and Mithilesh .The students performed confidently and Mithilesh did such a good job of the song “Sangeetha Jadi Mullai…” that he got a standing ovation .
Day 3 , Saturday. March 3rd 2018 - The sessions were opened with performances by Savio da Gama on the guitar and the group from Friends of Camphill followed by practice of the theme song ..lead by Mala Chinnappa of “A Special World” …from Chennai .
This was followed by a presentation about adaptive sports by Saravana Kumar of Swarga Foundation who has represented the nation for Adapted Table tennis .His life story where he shared about how he was paralysed waist down due to spinal cord injury due to a fall from the terrace at age 16 and how he did not give up his love for the sport and adapted to play it from his wheelchair was inspiring to many in the audience . Saravana also runs his own Content development business and is married and drives a modified car .
This was followed by a panel discussion on Relationships led by Dr Rathna Issac a clinical psychologist from Bangalore and the panellists were Mr Krishnakumar from Giftabled , who is single and “ready to mingle “ , Ms Swarnalatha who is married with two children and started Swarga foundation after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and Geetha and Ashwin ( Cerebral Palsy) who have been married for 3 years .They talked about the challenges of finding love , being in love and getting married and the challenges of maintaining a relationship especially under pressure from persons around them and society who are sceptical and do not believe that persons with disability have an equal right to relationships , sex and marriage . The discussion was quite candid and threw up many questions which the delegates were seen discussing offline during lunch and tea later.
The final session before lunch was on low cost adaptive technology and customised solutions by Bobby Paul and Subin George who teach at Saint GITS College of Engineering, Kerala and Arun Kumar all product designers. The audiance was a
Post lunch the delegates were taken on a hike to the nearby Nilgiri Biosphere Nature park . This park is a place that has been taken up by the Government of India as a conservation space for local fauna and has a canopy of about 700 species of trees . The cobbled stone path with a few steps every few yards was not very accessible to the wheelchair bound and a little scary for the visually impaired, but with the help of volunteers everyone made it around the path and got to enjoy the exhibits and explore the foliage .After a cooling lime juice break and a few pieces of ragi pakoda we were good to get back to the KKID Campus by 5:30 pm
There was presentation by Krishna Kumar from Gift abled , Bangalore who has Cerebral Palsy on Graphic design and Social media marketing .This was a “hot” topic that caught the attention of many. Karthick a banker from Chennai who has Cerebral palsy also showed of his ability to say the “day “ when given a date .It was followed by a community get together where the theme song was practiced , Savio did his magic with the guitar again and then there was a lot of song and dance …it did not matter whether you were on a wheelchair or your own two feet ..you were just rocking the party at this happy party . After a short break for dinner the group was back again on the lawns outside the conference hall, under the moon light …crooning away to glory till well past midnight .
Day 4 , Sunday, March 4th, 2018 - There was no sign of tiredness ..only joy was reflecting from each face next morning when the delegates gathered again to practice the theme song and get ready for the final event .The first presentation was by J Swarnalatha of Swarga foundation who talked about her life’s journey and how her disability has made a more beautiful person both inside and outside . This was flowed by the valedictory event where I [Akila Vaidyanathan ] did a roundup of the 3 day event , Followed by an interactive session by Thomas where he encouraged the participants to give feedback . Five persons with disability were honored for their outstanding achievements …Swarnalatha J of Swarga Foundation [Multiple sclerosis], Sabari Venkat who is a National Award winner [Visually impaired ] , Sumanth Iyengar , Manager @Flipkart [Cerebral palsy ] , Saravana Kumar of Swarga Foundation , [Spinal Cord injury ] and Savio Da gama [ Café owner /Guitarist ] from Goa [Downs syndrome ] . Sabari , a motivational speaker who is just 15 years old spoke about himself and his idol Swami Viviekananda .Though only five were honored …there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that each one was a hero at this Congress .
The feedback was heartwarming as almost everyone felt happy , rejuvenated and inspired ..especially to organize more events like these ,We had persons interested in taking it forward in their respective cities next year and this was our hope too as organizers that more people will join hands as we go along .
We had a lot to share and learn in the three days from those who had such clarity , creativity and capability in mind and such determination in spirit .The feeling that we experienced was that of oneness where the imaginary walls that separated persons with disability from the rest of us had dissolved and it created a feeling of merging ..best described by the Tamil word “Aikyam” .We carried back with us the belief in the possibility of a truly inclusive world and the energy to create it for ourselves .
The entire event was captured on camera by the young team from Causeinc ..including its founder Prahlad Menon supported Rahul Modi and Shaurya Lenka .This team had volunteered their time for the Congress , flying in all the way from Pune to make a film about the Congress . They became an integral part of the crowd by the end of the three days . There were some international volunteers from the US And Germany who had come along with the groups from Camphill and Nandavanam who fit right in with the crowd and had a wonderful time too .
March 1, Thursday evening 2018 - The Congress opened on 1st March with the 75 delegates arriving from all over the country. Besides the locals we had people from Chennai , Bangalore, Pune , Goa and Mumbai joining us . It was quite a sight to see delegates arrive by the mini busses and taxies ..some had travelled by air , train and road on their own in spite of the fact that they had some challenges .The Swarga Accessible taxi ‘Sarathi’ ferried those who were wheelchair users on all four days . As soon as they arrived they were struck by the beauty of the location …nestled by hills on all sides the Karl Kubel Institute of Development management is aesthetically landscaped and is one of the few fully wheelchair accessible facilities in Coimbatore where about a 100 persons can be housed. The food is tasty , the rooms comfortable and the staff are helpful and courteous here.
Day 2 , Friday, March 2nd, 2018 - The mornings at the Congress started with a buzz of activity to get coffee and fresh air , bath and breakfast and reach the halls on time . The confidence and happiness on the faces some of the delegates whizzed around in their motorized wheelchairs or glided around with their canes and grouped in corners to chitchat was palpable.
The sessions began with some musical entertainment by Mithilesh  who has Autism and Saswath who has Cerebral Palsy from Amaze trust . This was followed by presentations by Suraj kumar of Swarga Foundation [who has Muscular dystrophy] who talked about basic photography and in parallel a workshop on “Art from Waste “Geetha Ashwin, Bangalore and Viola Isaac Coimbatore .The interest levels in both workshops was very good and they threw up some interesting questions like “are there left handed cameras? “ something we have never thought about !! .In the Art from Waste workshop beautiful pen holders made out of newspaper and chopsticks and toilet rolls and the process of making them was very engaging. his was followed by a panel discussion on Employability chaired by Thoams Kraus and the panelists were Sumanth Iyengar [CP] who works for Flipkart , Bharat Subramanian[Autism ] and Viraj Bhat[Autism ] who work for SAP , Bangalore and Mr Arun who is manager @Coimbatore for Youth4Jobs , a company that trains and places persons with disability in jobs.