Ally stories: Adi Raheja

Ally stories: Adi Raheja

Embracing differences, embodying inclusion

It is when Adi Raheja talks of his dreams for ABBF that he truly proves he is an ABBF ally through and through. “ABBF should reach every corner of the world,” he says. “Every village, every town, every city should feel the impact of this work. At the end of it all, disability should become so normalised that people forget this perceived difference. After all, adventure is for all.”

Adi at InSync #M2K2017

The first time Adi got on a cycle was in May 2017. In August of the same year, he cycled every kilometre between Manali and Khardung La, a distance of 550 kilometres including five mountain passes, as part of InSync #M2K2017, India’s first inclusive tandem cycling expedition. His motivation was simple – to show his solidarity to the cause of inclusion and to remind his daughter that anything is possible if only you set your heart to it. In the months that followed, Adi and Palak have become regular participants at our events. “I have experienced transformation,” he explains, “and I want that for her too. I want her to be committed to inclusion for her lifetime, be strong and overcome everything that comes her way. That is why Palak joins me as an ABBF ally.”

It was his experience in the mountains that set the ball in motion though. Having grown up without much exposure to Persons with Disability, he admits to feeling a certain awkwardness in the face of disability. “When the team played national anthems from every country represented, I knew this was a truly inclusive spirit. Even if there was only one participant, that person was important, respected, and treated like a star. That value system spoke loud and clear.” Yet it was not just at the beginning that Adi felt the spirit of inclusion defining the expedition. “This emotion continued all the way till the end. As we all trudged towards Khardung La and the finish line, the way ABBF responded to every person’s needs was as if they were the ones pedalling. ‘Support’ doesn’t begin to cover it.”

Adi at #EverdayAbility in Pune

Today, Adi not only embodies the value systems ABBF stands for, he makes sure to practice them in his sphere of influence and then go the extra mile to spread the word. “We are currently hiring for my company, and I am actively on the lookout to give PwDs the opportunity to interview with us. I know I couldn’t have cycled all that way alone. Or with anyone else. ABBF and its work are so much bigger than I am, and I am here to help.”

For Adi, his time with ABBF has been one of steep learning. “On the trip, I learnt to be non-judgmental and be unabashedly myself. I learnt the true meaning of inclusion – not extra empathy or extra pity or extra anything. Persons with Disability or others who talk differently, behave differently, act differently, come from different backgrounds – we are all fundamentally human. And we all deserve equal respect. That is the inclusion ABBF taught me.”