Some let the talking do all the work for them, and then there are others who would rather their work speak for their intentions. Vidhya Kalyani Ramasubban belongs to the second category. With an impressive portfolio of social work in many parts of the country, mainly Ladakh as well as in Nepal, when she came to Bangalore and stared at the transportation system, she knew well that she was also staring at her next project. But rather than talk about it, she silently went ahead and made it a reality.
Having worked with the disabled, what she has started might just kickstart a movement, which our government, unlike those in many countries, has completely ignored. That of making transportation friendly for the disabled and senior citizens. Her venture, Kickstart Services, tries to address this mammoth issue in its own small way.
Vidhya has ‘soft launched’ a cab that is friendly to disabled and senior citizens. Her official launch will be in December, just before World Disabled Day, when she will have three friendly cars, all modified in their own way to fit the small needs of the disabled and elderly.
“I have been involved with development issues and disability is one among them. I understand the varied problems associated with them which are unmet. I was in Ladakh for over seven years where I began a disability movement. Through my experience, dealing with the disabled, I understood that vehicles was one aspect which was not at all friendly. So when I came to Bangalore, on a break, I wanted to address the mobility restrictions faced by them,” says Vidhya, who has set up a disability movement - People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR) in Ladakh. “It is run by people with disabilities and it supports Himalaya on Wheels, a tour company which also focuses on the travel needs of people with disabilities,” she says.
The vehicles with Kickstart cabs are modified to cater to the needs of the disabled as well as senior citizens. The drivers are trained to be sensitive to their issues. “Overall, it is not just about the product but more about the service,” says Vidhya, who holds a Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences , Mumbai.
“While the larger idea would be to have all transportation services disabled-friendly, it is definitely a Herculean task to crack, especially working with the government. This is a small way in which we can provide some relief to the disabled and to senior citizens and it directly produces results,” she says.
Having met many doctors who told her that there was a large dropout in follow-up treatment, especially with senior citizens, mainly because of the hassle of transportation, Vidhya believes that her venture, which is inclusive and not exclusive, has a potential market. “Many senior citizens are living by themselves and for many of their daily needs, they are dependent on somebody. Also, there are many companies which are employing people with disability. This product coupled with our service is targetted at such people in urban cities. It may be difficult to tap the rural market with such a product as of now,” she says.
The cab, which is currently running, is a Swift Desire. The passenger chair is modified in such a way that it turns towards the door, making the seating of the passenger easier than normal cars. Vidhya is getting another car, a Stingray, wherein the modification allows for the boot to open to a ramp which will let a wheelchair go in and get locked. By mid-October, she will get a Toyota Liva which has been modified in such a manner that the seat becomes the wheelchair. Vidhya says that they are looking at somebody from Bangalore who can modify the vehicles, as she has been getting it done from experts in Mumbai and Coimbatore.
Through her website, www.kickstartcabs.com, people can book online too. According to Vidhya, the website is compatible to international norms set by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for the disabled, so there are certain features which will help the disabled to navigate.
The initiative is in collaboration with Wheels of Change, an NGO and Kickstart Services Private Limited. The venture is currently being supported by Emphasis Limited.
On her expansion plans, Vidhya says, “We are currently testing the waters and will restrict to just three cabs for now. Probably at a later stage, we will expand to other cities as well. We want to train women as well as transgenders to drive. We plan to simultaneously start a ‘drive-and-hire’ service, especially for women.”