Having a jolly good time, the inclusive way

Niharika M Chennai | Updated on October 13, 2014 Published on October 12, 2014

The attendees having a blast at Kalakkal Cafe.

Asia’s very first hangout for young people, with a focus on disability is back

After a short hiatus, Vidya Sagar, a voluntary organisation based out of Chennai that works with children and young adults with neurological disabilities, re-launched Kalakkal Café on its premises. The café is intended to be a Saturday hangout that is both inclusive and entertaining. The atmosphere was one typical of a weekend, with Chennai-based Tamil rock band Jhanu performing live.

One for all

Rajul Padmanabhan, Director, Vidya Sagar, said: “It is a low-cost, sustainable and an accessible space where you can let your hair down. That was the simple idea behind this cafe. It is the first such hangout in Asia aimed at young people in general, but with a focus on disability,” she said.

The café follows a universal design, right from its tactile walls and ramps to accessible bathrooms and eating aids. It also has Braille menu cards for the visually impaired. As of now, the cafe will be open every Saturday between 5pm and 9 pm.

What was evident, as Padmanabhan spoke, was the need to articulate disabled-friendly spaces not as exclusive but as those that could be integrated with the mainstream. For that, the thinking around disability has to transform, from charity to a rights-based approach.

Concentrated effort

Smitha, a disabled rights activist with Vidya Sagar, said that while the new bill on disability attempted such an approach, it failed on several fronts.

As part of a collective that includes several city organisations as well as other groups at the national level, Smitha said that one of the rights they are fighting for is full legal capacity for the disabled. “Persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities are not legally entitled to open a bank account, marry, etc. People should have a right to choice, which is denied,” she said.

After a lot of pressure, the Bill was referred to a standing committee which has solicited suggestions. Smitha hopes that the views of the stakeholders will be given due consideration and wants the law to embrace the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities comprehensively (India has ratified this).

While legal obstacles to personhood remain a big challenge, the café is an earnest attempt at inclusive leisure, which is not just a necessary aspect of life but also a right, as Article 30 in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlights.

It remains neglected as the disabled and their needs often not prioritised. The salient feature of this re-launch is that Kalakkal Cafe can henceforth be used as a space for solo as well as group performances. The organisers hope that this would, in time, draw young people from surrounding colleges, and in the long-term, more public spaces in the city adopt an accessible, inclusive design.

Published on October 12, 2014
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