Friendship Day Special: An Accessible Friend

Business partner, classmate, travel companion, support system; Salil plays a million roles in Rustom Irani’s life, but none bigger than that of a friend. This is the story of their friendship that started in a classroom 15 years ago, some 8,380 miles away from Mumbai, and has remained strong despite them changing continents very often…

That's us, chilling in Singapore(Rustom right)

That’s us, chilling in Singapore (Salil left; Rustom right)

For every opportunity a disabled person gets to venture out of home there’s an equally determined effort from that person’s support group to ensure that this cycle continues.

Your family, caregivers, health service providers can only do so much however and the toughest battles are actually fought outside. Right from school, college, work, commute to restaurants, parks, worship and entertainment places your only support group as a disabled person are your friends.

When I was bullied as a kid in school I could give it right back, thanks to friends. Stairs as obstacle, no problem if friends carry you piggyback. It is friends who ensure that once you venture out of your home you have a reason and purpose to be a part of life like everyone else.

A friend is your true accessible option to inclusivity. I have friends who travel the world and share wonderful vivid stories of their adventures just so I can feel that I too have visited those places. Friends who’ve stayed up with me during blackouts and emergencies while stuck in inaccessible places for hours.

And I have a friend who is now my business partner and brother-in-arms since the past 15 years.

Our friendship is sweeter than the ice cream...just kidding!

Our friendship is sweeter than the ice cream…just kidding!

While we both were Bombay folk and studied only a stone’s throw from each other in the city we first got to know each other in film school in San Francisco.

While our Indian roots brought us together our friendship was forged through the work we did in film school. Salil is the man behind the camera, I’m the one in front of it. He observes, I gab, he executes, I plan, he assists, I gladly accept his help.

Any new place that Salil now visits he makes an instinctive mental note of accessibility for me. I don’t need to tell him my needs as he is ahead of me in those respects and in times of real sticky situations we’ve only been able to wriggle out if trouble with our collective efforts.

Since transport would sometimes mean a lot of money being spent for special accessible vehicles Salil would often turn those long treks into fun walks, exploring routes, clicking pictures and marking pit stops for my wheelchair. No weather is too bad, no time like the present and no obstacle which could be overcome. All lessons of the outside world picked up in his company.

During a nasty snowstorm and a failed wheelchair motor Salil dragged me through 2kms of slushy, icy streets in snowy weather cheerfully mocking my weight.

We’ve traveled in the most inaccessible places thanks to makeshift hacks and spur of the moment solutions. While there were plenty of moments where one would expect to turn back Salil egged me on that little bit extra with the promise of something awesome beyond the next bend.

Our trademark pose!

Our trademark pose!

He’s also the one true bridge and the most vocal when it comes to discussing the shortcomings in both, perception and lack of infrastructure important for inclusivity of the disabled.

In all of this I sometimes wonder what it would be for him to have a friend who uses a wheelchair, because I have no close friends with a disability.

I have only ever asked him this once. His reply, “With you I’m guaranteed the best free parking spot and don’t have to stand in queues. The able-bodied folk without a disabled friend are missing out on the biggest scam ever.” That’s another thing about a true friend, they tell it like it is.

Happy friendship day dear reader and may your support buddy know what you mean to them on this day.

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If just like Rustom, you have a friend who has supported you throughout then it’s time you took a holiday together. Enable Travel aims to make travelling accessible for all. With us, all you need to think about is which place to travel to, leave the rest to us!  Visit enabletravel.com or call 1800 266 8002

Rustom Irani

Founder and Creative Head of MoniePlant Productions, Rustom Irani was confined to a wheelchair after a motorbike accident at age nine. Despite this disadvantage, he has travelled across four continents and believes that a vacation is something to look forward to rather than something that you need to avoid. In keeping with this spirit, Rustom is dedicated to offering solutions and making travel more accessible for disabled travellers.

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