Accessibility November 2, 2020
#AccessibilityChampion – Disabled in a road accident, George Thomas now helps fellow accident survivors
Trivandrum based George K Thomas became a wheelchair user after he met with a road accident in his 20s. That incident has made him a passionate advocate for road safety and accessibility of public places.
It’s called Freedom on Wheels and the name aptly sums up George K Thomas’ mission in life. That is to make all of India accessible for wheelchair users.
In 2005 George, then 23 years old, was disabled in a road accident. His bike collided with an auto and his spinal cord was severely damaged. He became a wheelchair user. He realised the challenges people with disabilities face when it comes to accessing public places.
Along with his wife Jasmine Issac, George launched Freedom on Wheels to build greater sensitisation as well awareness about the need for accessible public spaces.
My wife Jasmine became a wheelchair user after her spinal cord was damaged in an accident in Bengaluru. Her scooter was knocked down by a speeding vehicle. We met at a hospital and got to know each other. We love each other and decided to get married and eventually launched Freedom on Wheels. – George Thomas, Co-founder, Freedom on Wheels
Trivandrum as model city
George’s dream is to make India 100% accessible for wheelchair users. He has started off with his city Thiruvananthapuram. “I have chosen Thiruvananthapuram as the model city and in partnership with local authorities am working towards making infrastructure here completely accessible”. He hopes to replicate this across India.
Freedom on Wheels works closely with local government officials and elected authorities including V K Prasanth, MLA and Mayor, Thiruvananthapuram Corporation in its accessibility initiatives. “We drew up an action plan along with the Mayor to make the changes and many public buildings and a park have become wheelchair accessible”.
These buildings include the Raj Bhavan and Circuit House. Freedom on Wheels also ensures that the accessibility norms followed are uniform and not in name alone. This includes proper ramp gradient is maintained across all buildings.
“We have to be practical and not expect radical changes”, adds George. “Expecting European standards is unrealistic because we have to remember that the infrastructure in many of these countries was totally destroyed after the World Wars. Many people were left with disabilities and hence the new construction took their needs into account. It’s not the same situation here”
Dream to make India accessible
George’s work brings him in close contact with fellow NGOs in the space of disability. “We help each other whenever possible”, says Gokul Retnakar, Founder, CanWalk, a venture that supports wheelchair users in Kerala. “We look forward to coordinating with organisations and individuals working in the field of disability.”.
George is also the author of a book on road safety called Safer Driving. Part of Freedom on Wheels’ awareness includes encouraging people with disabilities to step out of their homes. That, he is clear, will happen only where public spaces become accessible.
“My dream is that a person in a wheelchair goes independently to a government office, does everything on his/her own and then on the way back home, goes to the marketplace and does chores and returns home. All on their own with no hassles”.
It’s a dream that no doubt many others share.
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