In India, people with disabilities are often invisible in the day-to-day life, despite the numbering in the tens of millions of people. Here, the BBC Ayeshea Perera meets with the manufacturers of Inclov, an application that aims to give people with disabilities more opportunities to socialize.
“How many of you need alcohol to tell the truth?”
The crowd gathered at Kitty Su, an exclusive night club in the capital, Delhi, he laughs nervously.
But the fears soon fade away, and a brisk game of Truth or dare begins, where nothing seems out-of-the – table confessions about browser histories to speak in “animal sounds”.
Not long after, the DJ wheels himself to his console, and a mixture of Bollywood and English pop music starts pumping. Wheelchairs and crutches are not, however, people begin to make their way to the dance floor.
This is the latest installment of “social spaces”, an initiative by Inclov – permanent to the inclusive love – a matchmaking app created for people with disabilities, though it also has a large number of persons without disability in your platform.
For many of those gathered in Kitty Your this is your first visit to a night club.
“One time I was trying to go out with my friends to a pub in the city to celebrate the day of friendship, but it would not let me in saying that my wheelchair would make the other guests feel uncomfortable,” says Amy, Raj, a 34-year-old, who is by his own estimation, in his “seventh or eighth” social spaces of the event, which is said to be much more comfortable.
“Many Indians with disabilities had restricted social life since the time that they are children. It is not that they do not want to go out and do things, it’s just that even something as simple as getting a cup of coffee is very difficult for them,” says Shankar Srinivasan, who co-founded Inclov with his friend from the university of Kalyani Khona.
India is well disability hostile, in terms of infrastructure, attitudes and policy. Many families who have children with disabilities are rarely taken in public, as it is seen as a source of stigma and shame.
This “invisibility” means that they are not automatically considered a part of public life, and often the people that struggle to interact with, or adapt to them, which means that many times end up being rejected in your place.
The idea of Inclov was born after Shankar and Kalyani decided that he wanted to “do something in the matchmaking space” and realized very quickly that no one was thinking about people with disabilities.
Started with an “off-line” agency called Wanted Umbrella that turned into a static site and then a mobile app.
“With almost 80 million people with disabilities in India alone, we knew that the only way luxury was through technology,” Mr Srinivasan says. But without technical knowledge or money, the two of them raised money through a crowdfunding campaign where they were able to increase the 615,000 rupees (£6,976; $8,998) to hire a developer of the application.
They then conducted extensive interviews with a large number of people with disabilities, trying to understand what exactly it was that they wanted from an app like this. When it launched in January of 2016, started with about 100 verified profiles of the people and the community began to grow.
But, suddenly, Mr. Srinivasan, said he noticed something strange. While people connect with each other online and carry out conversations on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, nothing translates into the face-to-face meetings.
India exam topper Ira Singhal: When the disability does not matter
India disabled dancers rocking the bhangra
Why is it so difficult for people with disabilities to buy and use shoes?
“We realized too many external factors that were at play. Security is obviously a problem. And there are other considerations, such as infrastructure, the performers, the stigma, and so on.”
That was when Inclov it also decided on the creation of spaces where the people registered in your application can interact with each other. They had their first meeting in a cafe, in Gurgaon, a suburb of new Delhi, with about five people.
Since then, there have been around 50 other events in cities across India, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Jaipur. The last event at Kitty Su had almost 50 people in attendance.
“We try to create experiences for people, and also through these events, give them some level of access. So the next time you want to get out of there, they know that these places are available. You don’t always need a Inclov,” Mr Srinivasan says.
The events are different. That have taken place in various places, including hotels, cafes, beaches, and even comedy clubs and karaoke bars.
This has, according to the team, also helped to convince the establishments about the need to think about people with disabilities. The owners of the Kitty Su nightclub – in the hotel Lalit – for example, making sure that all their properties across India are wheelchair accessible and have provided their staff with awareness-raising actions.
For the most part, members of the community say Inclov has made a difference in their lives. Kritika Bali, of 27 years, says that although she has always been a “daredevil”, she has made a lot of close friends through the app and look forward to the social spaces of the meetings.
But others believe that more could be done.
Shrey Marwah, 26-year-old, says he feels that while the socialization is “fine”, the community can be mobilized to do more about how to treat the problems faced by people with disabilities. He also said that he felt that the application does not accommodate people with disabilities in lower income communities.
“Inclov in its current form, is quite limited. You should also do more to connect people with disabilities like us, with normal people. When I enter for example, people look at me like I’m something alien. We must use this platform to do more for the acceptance. We must also use our collective contacts to make more at the policy level to improve things for people with disabilities.”
But Mr. Srinivasan says that he is very clear that he does not want to Inclov to be a space for activism.
“We’re more about being problem-solvers, instead of going against the government. Finally, it is the mentality of people that matters, and through our events, and so forth, we open up perspectives and help to change the mentality,” he says.
Disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra said that he agreed with this perspective.
“This is what is disappointing about India. Why every person with a disability in this country have to be an activist? The problem with any minority in this country is that you end up being an activist because no one else does it for you. That is what needs to change.
And sometimes all I want is just to be able to meet someone for a cup of coffee.”