Have you ever sat at a café table alone? If you have, you know one thing – everyone always takes a double glance at you. You don’t really know why, you’re just enjoying a meal, but you’re very aware of it. Heads turning, quiet mumbling and strange looks – these are the realities of people with special abilities in public spaces.
Most differently- abled people are deal with this on a day-to-day basis, and their families along with them. They are treated differently, looked at differently, and perceived differently. Their lives are a whirlwind in itself, trying to create a balance between daily activities and social life, but when society reacts to them in the manner that they do, it only gets harder.
Their families are also caught in the jumble of it all, putting in extra effort and love to make their child feel safe and comfortable. Their lives are cluttered with the responsibility of societal stereotypes and judgements which they don’t have to take up.
Dining with people who have disabilities is an entirely different experience. Families go to the same restaurants as you and I, but walk out with atypical experiences. Why is that so?
People who are specially abled have difficulty maintaining the rules of decorum we have set, they may be loud, cranky or unsettling, and in dining spaces it can be upsetting to other diners, and even the staff may be unruly to them. This creates the difference between our experiences.
But, for the last one year, the “I Support Foundation” has successfully transformed 15 eateries in Bangalore and Lucknow to ‘Differently-abled friendly’ social spaces. This foundation set up by Juhi and Bobby Ramani is joining cafes around Lucknow and Bangalore to create safe spaces for the differently-abled. The initiative took off because Juhi believed that people with disabilities are more often than not uncomfortable in restaurants where they may be seen as outsiders. Her brother, who is autistic, has experienced this on several occasions.
Juhi stated that - “We approach restaurants with the proposal, after which we hold an hour-long orientation with the staff.” She added that their goal is to educate people about the signs they may see in Specially Abled Children and how they can make dining better and more comfortable for them and their families.
After the completion of the orientation, each restaurant gets a yellow-colored sticker which acts as a sign to show that the social space is differently-abled friendly. This, Juhi says, not only informs parents but initiates a conversation amongst them as well.
So far, India has always made efforts to make differently-abled safe spaces, but cafes and restaurants have rarely taken up such initiatives. The I Support Foundation has really aimed to change the experiences of these people with special abilities, making people more aware and more willing to listen to the struggles of these people.
Most specially-abled people aren’t given the right kind of attention or care in other cafes and restaurants, but the spaces that Juhi and Bobby Ramani have helped create make sure to look out for them and their needs which can be attended to whenever required.
Such an innovative yet practical change truly brings a certain sense of inclusion which was lost or barely there, to begin with for these people, it also eases the process of dining for their families who don’t have to deal with harassment or out casting and can instead enjoy their meal happily.