On a Wheelchair on Delhi Roads: Meet a Disability Rights Activist

21-year-old Pratishtha Deveshwar moved to Delhi from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, two years ago for her studies. The decision to move to Delhi was not just because of quality of education offered here but also because colleges in Hoshairpur are not accessible to her.

8 years ago, a road accident changed Pratishtha’s life. 4 vertebrates of her spinal cord were crushed in the accident which left her paralysed below the chest. She had to befriend a wheelchair at the age of 13.

Pratishtha DeveshwarI didn’t know what has happened with me, I was moved on a stretcher for several days. One day the doctor said he will take me out and I was so glad. Then he showed me the wheelchair. Honestly, in the initial days I hated it. Of course, now I embrace it.

What Traveling Means For Persons With Disabilities

With her parent’s support, she moved to Delhi and is now studying Political Science at Lady Sri Ram College. Coming from a small town, initially living alone in Delhi felt very liberating. But despite being a national capital, the realisation dawned that Delhi remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Joy turned into frustration.

Pratishtha DeveshwarI wanted to go grocery shopping but then couldn’t access the shops because of stairs, nearest parks did not have ramps on the entrance, sidewalks don’t have ramps, buses and cabs are inaccessible as well. More often than not, the cab driver denies and he cancels the ride abruptly. Because I do not have any accessible means of transport, I have to take my wheelchair on the road itself.

Her wheelchair became her vehicle. Not just a travelling companion, but also a means to raise her voice. She needed to speak up for her community and the first step was to join the equal opportunity cell at the prestigious Lady Sriram College, which she now leads. Through petitions, awareness and sheer will to change things, Pratishtha got ramps built near the parks at her college, started raising awareness about the rights of people with disabilities on several platforms and quashing the stereotypes around disability.

Pratishtha DeveshwarPeople have commented about my lipstick, the dress I am wearing as it doesn’t suit a person on wheelchair. What they don’t know is that I party, dance, eat out and do not miss out on life. We say person with disabilities, I am a ‘person’, a human being first.

She is now an accessibility rights activist and recently travelled to Nairobi, Kenya as a UNFPA youth participant at the ICPD25 conference. The International Conference on Population and Development brought together political leaders, policy makers, activists, NGOs and youth leaders from over 160 countries on one platform to push for women's reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development efforts.

Pratishtha’s stirring speech in front of a global gathering made a huge impact.

"I wanted to go out there and spread awareness about road safety. So that more and more people are aware of their rights on the road and more and more people have access to safer roads," she adds.

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