Candolim, Goa: 50-year-old Padma Govindugari has barely ever ventured out of Hyderabad all her life. Wheelchair-bound for years now, lack of accessibility at public places has always held her back. But when she found out that Goa’s Candolim beach is all set to become wheelchair friendly, Ms Govindugari decided to come experience the change firsthand.
“It was a life changing moment for me on that day. The moment I touched the water is special. I have never been to a beach before this because of inaccessibility,” she said.
Like Ms Govindugari, people with disabilities from all corners of India visited Candolim beach in Goa for a unique experience at the Goa Beachfest that took place over nine days starting March 31.
Organised by UMOJA, a travel website, wheelchair users got a chance to indulge in water sports, including taking a dip in the sea on the floating wheelchair.
For Hyderabad resident Sweetie Bagga, the experience has been surreal. “I played in the waves and sand with my children and grandchildren. It was a lot of fun. Going in the water on the floating wheelchair was something else. It was so different,” she said.
To ensure complete protection for those venturing out into the sea, two lifeguards were stationed to constantly manoeuver the wheelchair to avoid the big waves and one lifeguard was keeping strict vigil while waiting with a surfboard.
Despite the enthusiasm and intent to make all of Goa’s beaches accessible to people with disabilities, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the CRZ rule. According to which, no permanent structures can be built on Goa’s beaches. But that isn’t stopping the change makers from taking this initiative forward.
“We decided that we would create a model that the whole country and the whole world could follow where we make a beach accessible on a temporary basis and bring people from all over the country,” said Yashwant Holker, Co-founder of UMOJA.