Sahana (name changed) is a resident of Gurugram, who like many of us, enjoys eating out and going window-shopping across markets and malls. However, unlike many of us, she needs to think twice before getting out of her house.
More than the issue of safety, it is the inaccessibility of public spaces that restricts Sahana. She lost mobility from the waist below after an accident.
While Sahana gets around with the help of family and friends, not many in her situation can say that. They are often forced to stay indoors, not by choice, but because of lack of options. What irritates her is the lack of sensitivity and empathy from the authorities.
One vivid example highlights the extent of insensitivity that the authorities show towards people who are mobility-challenged. In 2015, the 15th National Para Athletic Championships was conducted in New Delhi. Even here, unfortunately, there were no proper arrangements made; no wheelchair lifts, no ramps/slope gradients or any other infrastructure to help the Paralympians. The organisers just put plywood on the staircase and expected the parathletes to push themselves up to reach their participating venues on time.
It was such a shameful act, and no reason could be justified for this mismanagement. Where the authorities are lax, individuals are stepping in to fill the void and make life easier.
Ezy Mov is India’s first wheelchair taxi, which is committed to helping people overcome their barriers.
In this conversation with Romeo Ravva, the company’s co-Founder and Director, we discuss their offering and explore their challenges.
Why start India’s first wheelchair taxi?
A friend’s sister who was wheelchair bound was perhaps the trigger that got the three co-founders thinking. She used the wheelchair to get herself to college and back, and while she was able to do so without causing any inconvenience to others, they felt that others in her situation may not have that luxury.
Another interesting point that Romeo makes is that a person on the wheelchair leaves their home only if it is necessary; usually, these outings are for weddings, family functions, or for visits to the doctor/hospital.
More than the inconvenience they face, it is their concern about the inconvenience caused to caregivers that keeps them bound to their homes.
“This is what we wanted to change,” says Romeo. “The idea was to provide the specially-challenged a dignified mode of transport.”
Thus began the research that led to the founding of Ezy Mov.
Ezy Mov came from the combined passion of Rrajesh, Romeo and Bennet to make a difference. The trio came together with their ideas and brought their varied experiences. Their novel idea had never been tried in India.
In 2015, when Ezy Mov was looking to launch, they found that there were no cars in India in which a wheelchair user could travel comfortably. This was because of the height restriction, so by default, the only option that wheelchairs users had, was to use the Tata Winger, which essentially looks and functions like an ambulance.
“In the first month of our opeartions, we only got four customers. It took us a while to understand that 90% of our users were senior citizens. It was a revelation to us that not all wheelchair users are necessarily specially-abled, some are users because of other mobility issues,” he says.
Moved by the plight of a potential customer
A routine call to inquire about the services that Ezy Mov provided changed a lot for the co-founders.
Recounting one experience that left all three of them feeling shaken, Romeo says, “One day we received a call from a middle-aged woman inquiring about our services, while we tried explaining how it works, she insisted that we visit her home and meet her son.
“Bennet agreed and saw that the young man on the wheelchair was suffering from muscular dystrophy, and Bennet saw how traumatising and difficult the process of getting him into the vehicle was for him.”
“They needed to get a few labourers to help pick up the young man and get him into the vehicle.”
Where was the dignity in that, they wondered.
It was instances like these that further strengthened their belief in what they were providing.
Another interesting observation that Romeo makes is how many of the caregivers or guardians of those who are wheelchair-bound question the need to pay for the service that Ezy Mov provides. They faced the need to establish themselves as a commercial service provider.
“We very often get asked why we are charging for the service we are providing. I would attribute this mentality to the conditioning of the government in making them believe that they are superior in some way,” says Romeo.
While this is not a complaint against all customers, but to some sections of their customers; Romeo’s request to the community is to ensure that one refrains from using their disability as a crutch. It is a service that Ezy Mov provides, and therefore it is important that they attach a monetary value to it – otherwise, where is the dignity in what they are doing?
Sensitising the drivers
This is something that Romeo takes personal interest in. He says, “I invest a lot of time in sensitising the drivers to the plight of our customers. A single comment can destroy their self-worth and hence we need to be extra careful while ferrying them.”
Present in only Mumbai as of now, Ezy Mov has clocked in 50,000 rides and is now working towards establishing their presence in Goa, come December 2018. They plan to expand to all the metros by 2019 and in the process, create entrepreneurs through driver-partners.
For more details on Ezy Mov, visit their website and Facebook page.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)