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From India to Canada: Pratik Awasthi's Pursuit Of Accessibility

Pratik Awasthi shares his inspiring journey of moving from India to Canada to seek a more accessible life. He discusses the challenges and triumphs of navigating accessibility in both countries and how this move impacted his self-worth and independence.

Pratik also provides insights into his passion for travel and the meticulous planning required for accessible adventures.

Connect with Pratik: 

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke


Episode Transcript:


peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I had cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have Pratik Awasthi on the podcast. He made the ultimate choice, along with the support of his family, to move from his birthplace, the foothills of the Himalayas in India, all the way over to Canada to ensure that he would have a better and easier life because of the accessibility offered in Canada. He spoke beautifully about how accessibility impacted his self-worth and his outlook on life. So without any further ado, let's get into it.


Pratik [00:01:03] Hi everyone! So my name is Pratik Awasthi. I have Becker Muscular Dystrophy and I'm based in Canada. I was born and brought up in India. I work as a software developer and as a part time. I run an Instagram page by the name Wheelogger, where I post accessibility related content and share my travel experiences and accessibility experiences.


peta [00:01:32] Well, it's lovely to have you here. Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. Because we both love travel. I want to start there. So where do you think you'll love of exploring the world comes from? I understand you were born in the foothills of the Himalayas. So a very beautiful place. You would have been, had a knowledge that the world had much beauty to share. And. And like me, I'm sure you want to say as much of it as possible. But where do you think that love of travel came from for you?


Pratik [00:02:08] So since my childhood, I had this innate curiosity to explore the world. And, when I grew up, initially due to my disability. I was a little bit unsure if I'll be able to, you know, pursue this dream of mine. But slowly as I moved along in my life and I managed some sort of. Financial independence, and I managed to create some solutions of accessibility in my life. Then I started to explore it again and again.


peta [00:02:46] This might be a naive question, but as a disabled person, I've never really considered India to be a place that I would be able to travel to. And I know that's part of your story of having to move from India. But how is India in its accessibility? Because as we know, countries just aren't their capital cities. There are many nuances to each country. Do you ever get back to India today? What is it like travelling for you in India? Is it possible?


Pratik [00:03:17] Yes. India is not that accessible. It is a developing economy that came out of years of colonisation. And, it had a lot of, I shouldn't say more pressing issues, but, there were it like, accessibility got overshadowed by so many other issues that maybe the country was facing. But as a community, I do notice the disabled community in India. They are trying hard and are advocating hard to increase the accessibility. I think I would use this opportunity to give a shout out to two of these organisations, one called Ramp My City. So this organisation creates ramps wherever there is a shop, restaurant or any place which has few steps, it creates a ramp for them to improve accessibility. And then there is this organisation there called Planet Abled, which offers, accessible tourism options, accessible tours and travels. And then now you can find some islands of accessibility in India. Like if you go to new shopping malls, they will be accessible. Some office buildings will be accessible. The new metro line I experienced in New Delhi was accessible, but they are like pockets or islands of accessibility. Overall, there is no connected accessibility, so it is not very easy for a person with a wheelchair to travel in India. Now, personally, for me, growing up there, till the age of 19, I would say I was not using a wheelchair, but my mobility wasn't great, especially in my later teens. I would walk just a few steps or I had to walk with assistance. So even in my high school, there were no elevators. So many times I would climb up to 4 or 5 floors slowly with lot of effort. Somehow I completed my high school, and then I started having a lot of falls, and I was working with a lot of difficulty. So then I transitioned to a wheelchair and, I think when I was 19 year old and exactly when I started my undergrad, and then I started noticing that how inaccessible the infrastructure was, because all of my classes or labs that I had to attend had steps, or if they were even on the fourth floor of the building, there won't be any elevators. On a daily basis. My friends and my other college mates would lift me up to four, even four floors up on a daily basis so that I can attend my own labs. That wasn't ideal. They were helping me, but I would have preferred if I could have gone all alone, all by myself, through accessible infrastructure. And secondly, there were no wheelchair accessible washrooms, for example. So then I realised that it is not really accessible and it was making me apprehensive for my future. Like if I started my career there and would I be able to lead a good quality life? Because in college I kind of thought I had this big circle of friends. But as I kind of assumed as I would transition into my career, life inevitably will start getting busy with their own families and building their own families. So that was an apprehension that me as well as my family were facing.


peta [00:06:54] Clearly your education for yourself was so important. Unlike a lot of students that think, oh, I'm going to skip my lecture today. You clearly wanted to to go and get educated. And I think that's fantastic. You certainly know how to make the right friends, and they clearly were lovely people as well, and good allies for disabled people, which I always love to hear. I want to, want the clock back a little bit before that time of your education and talk about the fact that, like me, you were born with your disability, but diagnosis took a little bit longer and it was your mum that actually picked it from my research, your mum was the one that picked it before a lot of the other doctors did. Because your mum is also, in the medical field is a doctor. How is your disability explained to you and how did that shape you as a child going into an adult?


Pratik [00:07:55] Oh, yes. First do your confirm. You are like my mom as a physician. And, she was the first one who suspected this. Like that. I have muscular dystrophy. There is this sign called Grover's sign or Grover's Manoeuvre. So it is a very specific way of getting up while sitting on the floor. If a person with muscle dystrophy is getting up, you would see Grover sign, which is we kind of climb back our ties with our hands because our pelvic muscles are kind of weak. And that way of getting up is very, very specific to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It's not the ultimate way of detecting it, but it is one of the key signs. Then we got genetic testing done and it was confirmed that I have Becker's muscular dystrophy, and my age at that time was around 11 years old. Now at that point, how it was, kind of, shared with me or explained to me. This is a muscle wasting disease in which over time, we would, you know, I would lose muscles. The only way to slow it down is through exercises and physiotherapy. But we cannot do a lot of exercises because if I go into fatigue then it accelerates the muscle wasting. So that was the very simple and clear instructions that were given to me. Although I think. A bit of hope was given to me as well. Like I was told that there is a high chance, there is a chance when you grow up into your adulthood, by that time you would be would see probably some genetic solution out there because a lot of research was going there. As I understood my disease. I also kind of started planning as a family also. I used to get a lot of advice that I should go into a technical field, especially computers, where I don't have to do a lot of physical work in my career. This information kind of shaped me to understand and agree with this kind of career path. That hope that there will be some solution as I came into my adulthood. By that time I had read many articles online. I had attended many conferences or events where I met most people with muscular dystrophy. I was convinced that maybe in my lifetime there may not be a permanent solution. So all I can do is maybe get into a career field where I can become financially independent. I kind of, started focusing on accessibility. I was like, I will not put my hope into waiting for the solution, which will get me rid of muscular dystrophy. Rather, I'll accept that I am on a wheelchair and this is my mobility solution. And the only way I can lead a quality life is looking for accessibility solutions in day to day life, which means my home should be accessible. My transportation should be accessible. If I have to travel, that should be accessible. So all the focus started going on there.


peta [00:11:29] Going back to you as a 19 year old. And getting into your wheelchair and realising how inaccessible the world is and thinking, I don't know whether India has the sort of future that is possible for me at the moment that I really seek. Like, I can't even imagine having to get okay with that in your own head to leave your homeland because of your disability. How do you go about feeling okay and feeling okay in yourself and feeling like this is a positive decision? And also knowing that your parents are going with you, like, it must be such a big decision that I know is taken out of your hands in a lot of ways, but how did you mentally think know, this is a really positive step for me, which it clearly has been.


Pratik [00:12:24] While I was doing my undergrad, we met some family who were living in Canada for 30, 40 years. And they saw me struggling with steps, and I was being lifted up all around the place. And that person came to us and they were like, you know, we have lived in Canada. And I think for pratique, Canada may offer better accessibility solutions. He can pursue his career more easily. You won't have to worry about lifting him up. So I mean, overall there will be better accessibility in Canada. We thought, okay, we'll give it a shot. We came here for a month. That time I got an advice from someone that if I immigrate here without any, job experience. Because when I came here for a month, I was still in my third year of undergrad, and I had one more year to go. So they said, if you're if you're planning that, you'll complete your undergrad and come here directly from India. You won't get a career because you don't have any job experience. Secondly, you don't have Canadian education. We said, okay, we'll go back. I'll apply for my master's. If I get my master's here, I'll come here and then we'll see. So we were just taking it a step at a time. We were not planning that. We will just now completely move from India to Canada. I was kind of thinking maybe after completing it, if I don't like it, I may move back to Canada. We were just taking baby steps and we didn't even realise that we were in a new country. But, it was pretty difficult in the sense all of our bigger extended family was in India and our social circle was here. I was still young, so I made new friends and new circles, especially for my parents. It was a harder move because they had lived all their life in India and created the circle there. So it was a big move for them. But they supported me. So I'm really grateful that I had such good support system. It is a big, very intimidating move and no one can, you know, make a long term planning and then move. It's always baby steps. Then you run a mountain, feel smaller if you work like that.


peta [00:14:39] One step at a time. One day at a time. Yeah.


Pratik [00:14:43] Exactly. Yeah.


peta [00:14:45] What did you think life would be like living in Canada before you moved?


Pratik [00:14:51] Within that one month trip. I experienced that all the infrastructure, whether it's public libraries, shopping malls, city buses. Everything were wheelchair accessible. So that was something very new for me because where I grew up, there were no wheelchair accessible buses or even wheelchair accessible infrastructure. In that one month trip, it was clear that I would be more independent here. And in that trip, I also rented one electric scooter. So that was my first time experiencing independence and mobility, because in India, since I started using my wheelchair, somebody had to push me around. It kind of gave me a lot of self-confidence, I would say. And it made me feel less dependent, more worthy, and more included in the society. Rather than feeling a little bit inferior or outcast. You know, I feel like I am part of this society because the society is working towards giving me solutions, accessible solutions. So yeah, it was a big change. It really kind of changed my personality, I would say. Just being independent. If you are dependent on others, you feel more like a burden and more help you take. It just adds up to that burden. So that kind of feeling was not there. And yeah, I was more confident in even self-worth increased. And this kind of helped me, you know, have a good social life. Even outside of work and even in my career, the accessibility ensured that I can work independently, b do well in my career without any obstacles or challenges. Be financially independent. You know, I also realised growing up in India, I had kind of in my head, very low standards of accessibility. So even minor accessibility, I would really appreciate it. Whereas I would see many Canadians would be complaining about the level of accessibility here and I wouldn't be able to understand, like, what's wrong? It's so good here. What are we complaining about? So it took me some while in understanding that as disabled people, we deserve independence. We deserve more accessibility. So after spending few years after that, I started noticing that still here as well, there were some areas which which were not accessible and which need improvement.


peta [00:17:36] For most people listening to this episode, they know how obsessed I am with travel. So it would be remiss of me to not ask you where you're planning to travel to next, and how long the planning process takes you to prepare to go for a trip. Like, what period of time do you allow yourself from? Okay, I'm thinking of travelling to here. How long does the planning process take before you get on that plane and go somewhere?


Pratik [00:18:05] At least a month. Even within Canada, for us, a month is my kind of minimum requirement before I travel. I start with looking for accessible hotels. I booked my flight in advance, and I called the airlines to make sure to give them to details about my wheelchair so that they're already with that. I always tell them that I need gate checking, which means I should be allowed to take my wheelchair to the gate. Then I have purchased a separate, cheap, lightweight, foldable electric wheelchair for my travels. Airlines are notorious for breaking heavy chains. Reason being, maybe their ground staff is not that trained and they just lift this heavy equipment and throw it in. Not being very sensitive to it. As it's lightweight, it has less chance of getting damaged while you travel. And secondly, even if it gets damaged, the damage monetary wise is not that bad. When I'm travelling in Europe, I always plan way, way in ahead. Reason being, I have to apply for a visa for my parents, which takes a long while. And secondly, I've seen it's a totally new atmosphere especially I travel to Eastern Europe. I was looking for accessible hotels on, say, Expedia, Putting the filter in. I was not able to find accessible hotel rooms. So what I had to do was I had to Google, read some forums where people had recommended some hotel names. And I also went to this. Actually, actually, I should tell the name of that group. There is this Facebook group called Accessible Travel Club. So I always go into that group. I post a query. Can someone please suggest some hotels which are accessible in such and such city? Then I, one by one, go directly to the hotel website. Call the hotel up. I also asked for pictures of the washroom just so that I can see how acceptable it is. And once I've done all that due diligence, I see what all options are available. And then I booked the hotel. Similarly, I do the same for cars. I try to see if I can rent a car which is wheelchair accessible. Many times I've seen it's not very easy to find or rent a wheelchair accessible car window. Yeah, and even if you find it, it's so expensive to rent them. I recently travelled in Czech Railways and Austrian Railways. So they had this full process of how accessible coaches have to be booked. So you have to first go in, put the filter on. It will give you the seat and the coach number. Once you've done that, you have to fill up a form for accessibility request using which there will be someone with the lift that will get me into the train. So it is quite complicated, so I try to plan as much in advance as as possible, because there's a lot of planning one has to do before you could travel.


Peta [00:21:21] Yeah, a lot of what you're saying is my life as well. We do a lot of the same processes. Like one of the most tricky things that I've recently come up against. I was in, the UK last year, and I needed an accessible spot in the train to see it. But they're accessible line. They require you to call. But because I'm in Australia, I rang and they don't accept international calls. You have to call from England. So I luckily I just had a friend that was able to call on my behalf because there was no other way to do it. You couldn't do it online.


Pratik [00:21:58] Yeah, it's very difficult. Like I love travelling, but travel planning and bookings give me anxiety. Like I have this upcoming travel plan in September and it's already giving me anxiety. I'm looking forward to travelling, but this planning and booking phase is. So, so hard. And I sometimes tell my nondisabled friends and they sometimes think I'm making this up. They would ignore you can go. I don't think it should be this difficult. Then I tell them, okay, come along and search with me. It's not that easy.


Peta [00:22:33] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Don't forget, you can always scroll back into the feed and listen to some older episodes. Last week I spoke to Annabel Moult in and around how she coped with hospital and medical trauma. A really great conversation. If you did enjoy this episode and the podcast in general, can I encourage you to leave a writing in review on Apple or Spotify? It helps more people find the podcast. Thank you, as always for listening. I really appreciate you and I'm till next week. Have a good one guys. Bye. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation, of which I recalled the podcast today. And I pay my respects to both elders, past and present, along with and especially to those in the First Nations communities who are disabled themselves.



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