We all know that India is not the most convenient country for persons with disabilities. Due to a severe lack of accessible facilities, persons with disabilities in our country struggle with living an independent and fulfilling life. Going to school, getting a job, going to the doctor, or even getting around one’s own home are tasks that are difficult or even dangerous for persons with disabilities to do on their own.
With the passing of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act last December, the Government is starting to take steps to improve the situation, but over the last 30 years, Ferdinand Rodricks has made it his life’s work to give persons with mobility impairments greater mobility, greater independence, and ultimately a greater sense of freedom.
A mechanical whiz and self-confessed car junkie, Ferdi, as he is lovingly known by his customers and friends, has adapted over 1,000 vehicles so they can be independently operated by persons with disabilities.
He has also custom built various types of hoists and fittings to suit the needs of people with disabilities all over the country. His passion is helping people live independent lives, and his work has given thousands a chance to work, go to school, or just go to a friend’s house with ease, comfort and dignity.
“Paralysis, limb impairment or shortness of stature, there hasn’t been a situation where we have not been able to customise a vehicle to suit a person’s needs. Every adaptation is a challenge and I take on challenges that others won’t”, says Ferdi.
One of his most memorable projects was customising a car with hand controls for his friend Sanjay Joshi who is a double amputee. Initially his wheelchair needed to be lifted by someone to place it inside the car. Ferdi and Sanjay burned the midnight oil for over 6 to 8 months and came up with the design of a wheelchair hoist that could be fixed on top of the car. Sanjay was able to operate this single-handedly and became fully independent from that day on.
“I have had such moments with so many people. I cherish each one of them in my heart. I feel very sentimental at times to talk about all the stuff we have gone through together”, says Ferdi.
Mearl Camilo had come all the way from Goa to meet Ferdi. She was a person of short stature so Ferdi fitted the car with hand controls and gave her a high pillow to sit on the driving seat. She learned to drive using the new controls within an hour and was overjoyed to make the transition from being dependent on her parents and brothers to driving by herself.
On Mearl’s return to Goa, her elderly mother called Ferdi in tears. “Today my daughter drove me to the church and I was able to attend mass for the first time in months. I was so proud to see my daughter, who used to have difficulty even getting in the school bus without help, behind the wheel and driving with confidence. You have changed our lives. Thank you.”
“There are so many of them whom I have taught to drive. I have seen tears of joy in their eyes after being able to drive. You can imagine the flow of emotions they go through at that time”, reminisces Ferdi.
An equal amount of R&D goes into designing a patient hoist. When Ferdi met Lidwin she was in her late forties, affected by polio and walking on her knees. When her knees eventually collapsed she was forced to use a patla (wooden board with wheels) to move around and was confined to living and even eating on the floor. Her profession as a tailor also took a hit because she was unable to cut clothes on the floor.
Ferdi designed an electrically-operated portable hoist which could be used to lift her from the ground to the chair level. She could easily transfer to a chair and finally have a meal at the dining table with dignity. She could also resume her tailoring work as she could once again cut comfortably on a table.
“She was a heavily built person. I had to make sure that what we gave her was good and should not topple with her on it. Whenever safety comes into play, I take hundred percent precaution”, insists Ferdi.
Most recently, Ferdi has started distributing a “water wheelchair”. This floating chair is a safe and secure way of taking a person with a disability into the sea or a pool. There is no fear of drowning or tipping over because the person sitting is strapped adequately and the chair is supported with floaters all around. The amphibian chair made its debut at #BeachFest2017, an accessible beach festival organised by UMOJA early this year, where it gave dozens of wheelchair users a chance to experience floating in waves for the first time in their lives.
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“Whenever I travel abroad I look out for new ideas and experiences that I can bring back to India. The amphibian chair was one of such initiatives to make the world around us more inclusive”, says Ferdi.
Ferdi has a grand vision of setting up an inclusive rehab cum recreation center where people with all kinds of disabilities can come, move about freely, and participate in accessible activities they can currently only dream of. His vision includes a small petting zoo, accessible classes in gardening, drawing, or cooking, and even sports facilities for wheelchair basketball. There will also be accessible boarding facilities for kids and adults who need special care. Their families and regular caretakers can take a break for a few days and the staff at the center will take care of them.
“Many people with disabilities are at the risk of getting inside a shell because of loneliness and depression. But when they will come into this vibrant environment and meet people who face similar challenges, it will change their perspectives forever. This will be truly fantastic and something unique that we can create for mankind”, says Ferdi enthusiastically.
Ferdi is a true example of actions speaking louder than words. While the government and society are now becoming sensitive to the requirements of people with disabilities, Ferdi has been leading the charge for decades. By finding a solution for almost any requirement, Ferdi’s work has empowered thousands of people across the country, giving them a chance to learn, earn, and live with dignity.
Written by UMOJA blogger-at-large, Mrunmaiy Abroal. Living with a cervical spinal cord injury since 2011, Mrunmaiy has not let disability curb her enthusiasm for embarking on new journeys.
At UMOJA, we salute people like Ferdi who are making India more inclusive and accessible. If you know people who are doing fantastic work to build a more #AccessibleIndia and deserve a shout out, write and tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UMOJA is India’s first and largest portal for persons with accessibility needs. To learn more about our work at UMOJA, visit www.UMOJA.in.