Friday, January 14, 2011

In India, wheelchair user advocates for marathons to include disabled participants

From The Hindustan Times:

On Sunday morning, Tamil Nadu resident Sankara Raman will participate in the wheelchair event of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2011 for the seventh year in a row. But if he were to have things his way, this disability rights activist would rather be a part of the competitive marathon categories.

“Instead of having an exclusive event for wheelchair users, I wish the organisers would give us the option of participating in the regular categories as well,” said Raman, the honorary secretary of Amar Seva Sangam, a non-profit organisation working for physically challenged villagers in Tamil Nadu.

Raman plans to raise Rs 15 lakh for his organisation through this year’s marathon, and placed this suggestion before the organisers at a panel discussion of Dream Team members on Thursday. (see box, Dream team alumni club created)

The wheelchair category was introduced by organisers of the Mumbai Marathon in its second edition in 2005. “Opening up the option of other categories for us would be the next step towards true inclusion,” said Raman, a patient of muscular dystrophy.

Not all members of the physically-challenged community share Raman’s views. According to activist Neenu Kewlani, some differently-abled participants in the marathon have specially designed sports wheelchairs that they can propel themselves, without an assistant.

“For these participants, 2.5 km may be too short a run, and the option of the regular categories would be welcome,” said Kewlani, a volunteer with ADAPT, formerly known as the Spastics Society of India. “However, I understand the responsibilities the organisers have to ensure our safety in a large crowd of runners.”

Organisers say that most of the wheelchairs used by Mumbai participants are regular ones not designed for professional racing.

“At the moment we have no amenities for customised sports wheelchairs,” said Bruno Goveas, director of media relations for the Mumbai Marathon, emphasising that the wheelchair event is not a competitive race. “Going at a high speed in the regular category races would create a dangerous situation for the wheelchair participants.”

For competitive wheelchair races differently-abled participants use professional or racing wheelchairs, which have at least two rear wheels, and one front wheel.

Most of the wheelchairs used are three-wheel types and have gears. The racing wheelchairs use light-weighing materials such as aluminum and titanium, and lightest ones weigh only around 6kg.