BEACH FESTIVAL: A specially designed aquatic chair imported from France can be used by the physically handicapped to go into the sea for a beach holiday
Imagine as a victim of cerebral palsy, being told by your parents to make the most of your life on a wheelchair…and not to pity yourself in the process! FREDERIKA MENEZES may be physically handicapped or differently-abled but she is quite a niz Goenkar with a fighting spirit second to none. Here’s a woman of real substance to befriend and emulate…
By Tara Narayan
WHO says the differently-abled can’t have fun? Ask cerebral palsy-challenged Frederika Menezes all about it! She will say nothing doing, don’t treat those who are challenged by life’s limitations with pity. Just help them to live happily and with as much fun as they can have. In her mid-30s she wants to have fun as long as she is around. What’s wrong with that?
Most of us will agree that a civilized and warm-hearted government and civil society will help her and others like her who live at various levels of ability. Surely it is not too difficult to put into place some useful hardware in public places at least so that the differently-abled of our society need not sit at home and put up with painful claustrophobia all the time. Especially if like Frederika Menezes they don’t want to stay at home forever pining to go out to see the world.
We must judge civilization and its greatness by how inclusive it is and not how exclusive! Frederika Menezes champions the cause of the differently-abled and her fighting spirit is instantly endearing. She does not let her limitations stop her from wanting to live life brimming over with fun, friends, and relationships; making the world a better place to live for those who can’t and won’t give up too easily, but who feel defeated just for want of a few useful physical tools to be more mobile and to make life worth living!
A SWEEPING change of perception is required here. Not every differently-abled person is an invalid although we sometimes think so in various degrees of brutal charity or indifference. It is impossible not to melt with one glimpse of what Frederika Menezes is all about. Not least of all her simple request of “I want to have fun in a wheelchair!” The appeal goes straight to the heart of anyone with a heart! It is surely not too difficult to make such a small request come true for her and other differently-abled people! Goa can certainly set an example for the rest of India if it wants to. From the sound of it, a lot of differently-abled folk in the country would like to visit Goa and enjoy the sun, sea and sandy beach-side delights as other tourists do when they come to Goa.
If only the concerned government departments and hospitality industry players would stretch themselves to put invaluable infrastructure into place in public places like market places, cinema halls, museums, shopping malls, and yes, even the beach! Infrastructure which permits wheelchair-users to feel safe and secure while on an outing to make the most of life’s gifts.
At a recent press conference to announce a beach festival for differently-abled tourists from the country over at Candolim beach from March 31 to April 9, 2017, several spokespersons made their point on behalf of author and poet Frederika Menezes who was there to make her contributions so lively that one found oneself smiling and anxious to listen to some more from her (it takes a little familiarity to follow the gist of what she says). Her mother Angela is usually at her side to help those unfamiliar with her interpret what she says.
Her parents are both doctors and its clear they’ve played no mean role in infusing their daughter with a fighting spirit. It is not fair that people like her who are differently abled (never say physically handicapped if you don’t have to!) can’t live their lives as normally as possible in public places just for want of primary facilities in public areas – for one thing a specially designed cab for wheelchair users is useful as are portable ramps. Hey, anyone who has travelled to countries of the West or even to Singapore must have seen a lot of scientifically-designed and user-friendly wheelchairs as also other small equipment to facilitate movement in public for those in wheelchairs. See how gleefully Frederika moves in her wheelchair when she wants to make a point and takes a shine to you!
Her favourite people? Her mother, of course and her friends (yes, she has many friends which whom she sometimes has a spat with, boyfriends too). She’s on Twitter too; check her out. She loves books, music and has sharp eyes and sharper ears for picking up a conversation. In fact, this lovely Goan woman of amazing substance in a wheelchair can give one a complex! She’s done her primary education up to the 10th standard at the People’s High School in Panjim and amongst other things has taken to writing poetry and novels. Some of her published works are The Portrait (a collection of poems published in 1998), The Pepperns and Wars of the Mind, (a 2003 published fantasy story), and Unforgotten (which she describes as a love story for young adults, published in 2014). She’s also got Stories in Rhyme in verse for children.
Have you read her poem “The Different Normals?” (Read it and it will sweep away any negativity you may have in your perception of differently-abled people.)
Frederika Menezes is a familiar face at any conference to do with differently-abled people’s rights in a world which still tends to marginalise folk like her. Meeting Frederika opens up a whole new perspective on the how differently-abled people can live life with more vitality. It is no small fraternity. There are something like seven billion disabled people in the world, three to four per cent of the world’s population, says Avelino de Sa (president, Disability Rights Association of Goa). De Sa and Frederika were classmates in school and know each other well, sharing a common cause – to make life worth living for the differently-abled people of Goa and India.
For much of her life Frederika Menezes has been fighting in all kinds of ways to make society at large notice her and her friends. A lot of it is to do with access to public rest and recreation places. The latest thing she is pining to do is have fun on a beach with her friends – but her wheelchair would get stuck in the sand! How can she make it into the sea in her wheelchair? Why can’t she have some fun like “normal” people? Some things may be a lost dream for another lifetime but many dreams can be made to come true given some imagination!
“I want to feel free on a beach like other people!” So now she’s found UMOJA, said to be India’s first and largest travel platform for facilitating travel plans for those with special needs. Meet Yeshwant Holkar and Benjamin Musgrave, co-founders of UMOJA, who go to extraordinary lengths to make a special client’s holiday hassle free. They have done a survey and come out with a useful booklet – The UMOJA Guide to Goa. It briefs you about wheelchair accessibility for those travelling in wheelchairs. Goa is a hot favourite destination for wheelchair-bound tourists.
For the country’s first ever truly Wheelchair Accessible Beach Festival that starts March 31, Yeshwant Holkar has even acquired an aquatic beach chair which Frederika says she will inaugurate, “I’m going to Candolim beach and I will go for a swim!” They are expecting at least 100 wheelchair tourists for the March 31 to April 9 (both days inclusive) holiday, with family and friends welcome to join in the fun. There will be exciting water sports, beach bowling, wheelchair cricket, kite flying, sand castle competitions, wheelchair dancing and other activities, allowing the participants to imbibe the feel of a beach holiday with sun, sea and the freedom of the sky above!
Frederika is differently-abled or physically challenged, and forced to live her life in a wheelchair, but can she liven up life? Yes, she can – she’s Goan, lives in Goa and has the sea in her veins so to speak. She’s all set lead and everybody else may follow, up to them!
It’s going to be a first time for many of these feisty wheelchair-bound tourists from the country over. Says Yeswant Holkar who’s fine-tuned the extraordinary holiday, “We have always believed that every individual has equal right to access public spaces. Enjoying a day at the beach along with family should be possible for everyone irrespective of whether such people are differently-abled. Together with our partners we are working to turn this into a reality by collaborating with the government of India and other local partners.”
State Commissioner for Disabilities, Govt of Goa, Anuradha Joshi, is all encouraging smiles, “As India’s leading state in socio-economic development nationwide, we have always supported every initiative which endeavours to provide differently-abled individuals their rightful position in our society. We fully support this venture and hope it will serve as a model to be replicated across the state and country.”
This pioneering beach festival has the blessings and support of the Goa Tourism Department Corporation (GTDC) and all who seek to open up new horizons in beach tourism or any other tourism in Goa for wheelchair tourists who can and will have all the fun they want to!
Three cheers for Frederika and everyone who is engaged in creating hassle-free holidays for wheelchair-bound tourists! Most hoteliers and even holiday destination and tourism powers-that-be are not sensitized enough about the needs of handicapped folk who would like to have a holiday just like normal folk do. Frederika Menezes says repeatedly – “Don’t feel sorry or pity us, just treat us normally like we are human too!”
It is possible for establishments to be sensitised enough to put a few useful facilities in place for wheelchair users. One of the reasons why most differently-abled folk restrict themselves to staying indoors, refusing invitations by family and friends to go out in a wheelchair, is quite simply because they can’t handle steps everywhere. However, if there were smooth ramps allowing them easy access, they would be tempted to go out for some rest and recreation, and perhaps enjoy a meal out.
There is so much to wheelchair accessibility. One never realizes it until one sees for one’s self the difference it makes for the physically challenged (different from being mentally challenged) vis-à-vis quality of life while out of the home. Frederika Menezes is all woman in her responses to queries she senses you want to ask her. Don’t be afraid of her either! When I asked her mother Angela for her cell number she interrupted sassily, “Don’t you want my number?”
Google this captivating woman who’s always spoiling for a fight for a cause – nobody really sees them, she sighs, “It’s very sad! It’s very bad!” Everything can be sorted out with the right attitude first. What kind of an attitude do you have when you see someone in a wheelchair? Do public utility government offices think of the disabled while instructing contractors on roadways, pavements, traffic crossovers? Can a wheelchair user travel by bus anywhere in India? If other countries can do it – England, Germany, even Italy, the Scandinavian countries, Singapore – why can’t we in India? Goa can set an example!
THE DIFFERENT NORMALS
By Frederika Menezes
Oh, when you see me
What do you see…
A broken winged
Trapped where it is?
And what crosses
When you hear my
Do you try to understand
Or simply shake your head
Waving it away?
When I cross your path
Hard of hearing…
What is your reaction then
Is it pity or indifference?
And last but not the least
When you read
Do you think to yourself and say
“Oh, this cannot be
From a hand
From a mind belonging
To one of those
Who aren’t ‘ Normal’ like me !”
If that is so
You know nothing of
What you need
About the different normals
That make up the world…!