Wheelchair tennis player and Padma Shri awardee H Boniface Prabhu missed out on regular school growing up in Bengaluru.
Wheeling his way around the premises of the Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities (GRIID) in Sector 31, Chandigarh, on Friday, Prabhu said: “I was very keen to sit in a classroom with students. If I miss doing anything, it is going to a regular school. None of the schools were accessible on a wheelchair.”
A quadriplegic, Prabhu was left paralysed at the age of four because of a doctor’s negligence. Instead of harbouring bitterness, Prabhu has made his condition his strongest point.
“My father always told me that God made me like this for a purpose. I think disability is not just physical. Anyone who is battling stress is disabled, anyone using glasses to read is disabled, anyone with a closed mindset is disabled,” Prabhu told the students at GRIID.
To spread awareness about disability and promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign of “Accessible India”, Prabhu has undertaken a 3,500-km journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Traversing through 14 cities, Prabhu’s road expedition titled Thums Up Veer Kashmir to Kanyakumari (K2K) aims to sensitise people to the cause of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).
“I started on November 9 and I would participate in more than 50 events on the way to Kanyakumari. The idea is to talk about making India accessible at all level for people with disabilities. I also want to motivate young people that disability is just in the mind. It is about the right attitude and everything is possible,” said Prabhu, who won his first medal at the 1998 World Championships.
While he is an ace at tennis and also runs an academy, Prabhu also excels in disciplines such as shot put, badminton, javelin throw, table tennis, shooting and discuss throw.
On his road expedition, Prabhu is also talking about sign language, the importance of which of most of us seem to overlook. “It is easy to learn and in my interactions with people, I try and teach them the basics,” said Prabhu, who has partnered with American India Foundation and Being Human for this initiative.
According to the 2011 census, there are 26.8 million PWDs in India and only 3 per cent of them are gainfully employed. This is unlike some developed countries where the employment rate of PWDs is 30 per cent to 50 per cent.
The World Bank estimates that by excluding PWDs from the mainstream leads an economy loses 3 per cent-7 per cent of GDP realisation.
“While we are all focused on the core issues of technology, infrastructure, manufacturing, I believe that we can’t make the India of our dreams if we do not leverage the skills and potential of the disabled. We need to create opportunities for them and be sensitive to their unique requirements. Being a quadriplegic myself, the onus was on me to take this step forward. I am hoping that this expedition will help set the ground for some meaningful interventions in this space,” said Prabhu.