Disability no barrier to pursue dreams - My Take by Unni Maxx, paraplegic graphic designer, traveler & social worker
In My Take this week we have Unni Maxx, secretary of Thanal, a group that works for the empowerment of paraplegic people in Kerala. Unni is a graphic designer, musician and an ardent traveler, who has been working relentlessly to help empower people with disabilities.
Until my degree, I was just like any other youngster, looking to have a good time with friends once college was over. My life took a turn in 1997 when I met with an accident. I was travelling in an auto-rickshaw when it was hit by a bus and overturned. I sustained a serious spinal cord injury and spent months in hospital.
I did not realize how serious the injury was and that the damage to my body was permanent. I was under the impression I was going to start walking again, very soon.
It took me almost three years to realize that I would be using a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I live in Koothattukulam near Kottayam in Kerala. My family and friends were of immense support during those times. They helped me come out of this period.
Once the thought of being on a wheelchair sank into my mind, I had to start looking for a job which I could do from home. I was learning computers when I met with the accident. So I thought why not take this up as a profession? I learnt Photoshop and graphic designing. I started off by opening an Internet cafe but closed it down after a while. Now, I freelance and this gives me a lot of time to myself.
Journey with Thanal
Thanal Paraplegic Welfare Society was started by a group of nine people, including me, three years ago. We hold training camps in different parts of Kerala to empower people on wheelchairs. Until a few years back, I was reluctant to leave my home. I never felt the need to get out and explore. But I was active on social media and that is how I realized that there are many people like me out there!
We decided to start Thanal, a venture that helps a lending hand to other wheelchair users to make them independent. Now, over 300 people are a part of Thanal. We hold camps and teach them to make soap, soap powders, phenyl, jewellery etc. They can make all these from home and earn a living too.
When we started off Thanal we had ample support from the Kerala State Palliative Care Department. We also join hands with a venture called Kudumbashree.
Every year, we hold an Onam get together. All of us meet at a common place and celebrate. But this year, due to heavy rains and floods in Kerala, we are cancelling the programme.
Freedom on Wheels was started in 2015 with eight members who are on wheelchairs. We have been conducting music shows across the state of Kerala. Our troupe has performed in all districts from Malappuram to Kanyakumari. We just completed 150 shows now.
We had planned to stage a drama next month, the first time a drama with disabled people was being held in Kerala. But given the state of the people after the floods, we are cancelling that. Our people are undergoing trauma post the floods. We want to stand with them during this dark hour.
My life changed after I got married to Sreeparvathy eight years later. She is a writer and a journalist. We travel a lot together and she has changed me for the good. I drive a car which is customized and has hand control. We travel to different places when we get a vacation.
Accessible tourism is still a distant dream in Kerala. Even our hotels do not have wheelchair ramps or disabled-friendly toilets. Even though the scenario has changed over the last one year, there is much to do. Even our government offices are inaccessible. This must change soon.
I feel more youngsters must come forward to help people with disabilities. There are people on wheelchairs that have never had a chance to see a sea! A few months ago, volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS) had taken the initiative to take a few people to witness the beauty of the waters. The joy in the eyes of those wheelchair users cannot be explained!
I feel disability is never a hitch to pursue your dreams. Do what you love doing best. Rest everything will fall in place.