In the word’s of Maya Angelou’s iconic poem: “I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman. That’s me.” It is fitting today, as we celebrate women, that we launch our interview series featuring a phenomenal woman, Nisha Varghese.
I met Nisha on Twitter when she came across something I had posted, I can’t recall what, but she took the time to tweet a video encouraging me as a mother and in the work that I do. This is a perfect example of the theme that has been resonating this Women’s Day – that women need to support each other and build each other up. If you follow Nisha online, you will see that she lives and breathes this. She is also selflessly dedicated to improving the lives of others and there are a number of causes that are close to her heart.
So without further rambling from me, please meet Nisha:
Please give us an introduction to yourself
I am a woman determined to make a difference and inspire others to do the same. I live in hope that the fact that I have Cerebral Palsy will be nothing but a footnote in the book that is my life.
We know you are very adventurous and have gone ziplining and paragliding – kindly share with us about those experiences, and any others you have done
That’s right, two years ago I went ziplining with Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours to help raise money and awareness for Smile Train (Smile Train provides cleft lip and palette surgeries for people worldwide) and in 2017 I went paragliding with FlyCapeTown Paragliding to raise awareness about Morocco’s 42-year illegal occupation of a country called Western Sahara.
We are aware that you are an activist for various social issues, and in particular are dedicated to raising funds for Miracle Feet, providing treatment for children born with clubfoot. Please can you share about this…
Since 2010 I have been crowdfunding for various causes ranging from water to cleft lip and in 2017 I decided to help Miracle Feet because I believe all children deserve to live without the hindrance of Clubfoot regardless of their socio-economic circumstance.
What are the most common access challenges you face when travelling, eating out or participating in activities?
The most common accessibility challenge I face is when I find myself in a building with stairs but no elevator – my family has to lift me up the stairs while I’m still on the wheelchair it’s difficult for them and dangerous for me.
Do you generally find people helpful when you are faced with an access challenge at an establishment?
The general public is helpful especially if they see that we are struggling.
How do you currently find information on accessible places to visit?
I find lots of information on accessibility through the internet
Are you quite spontaneous in trying new places or does the thought of facing accessibility hurdles deter you from visiting places that aren’t specifically advertised as accessible?
Nothing deters me from anything (refer above: paragliding) but we do research every place we wish to visit just to make sure there are no surprises.
Please share a bit about some of your favourite places to visit that are accessible for your needs and where you can really enjoy a day out, a meal, or a comfortable night’s accommodation
What is one activity that you would like to do that you currently don’t think is possible because of accessibility challenges?
Hot Air Ballooning – I have asked many operators in South Africa if they could take me most of them say I need to be able to stand.
How likely are you to travel more if you knew that most places you visit will be able to accommodate your access needs?
Lack of accessibility is the only thing that makes me think twice about going somewhere so if I knew a place was accessible I would go.
If every establishment that is not yet accessible could start with just one adjustment, where should they start?
Installing s ramp is the first and easiest step to take to make a space accessible
What is your tip, trick, or advice for other people who are hesitant to travel or try new adventures because of the fear of their access needs not being met?
Research the things you want to do and places you want to go to and also have tunnel-vision – be determined that your medical condition will never stop you from living fully.
What is something you would love to see change with regards to the way the world responds to or provides for disability?
It irritates me the pity I see in some people’s eyes when they look at me – my life is neither better or worse than anyone else’s – it’s just different.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
My superhero Catherine Constantinides (everybody must Google her she’s the BESTEST [I know that’s not a word but calling her the best is an understatement so I made up a word] ) taught me that “Impossible is nothing and hope is everything.” On my most challenging days I remember that and I remember her life story and suddenly things are better. She is proof that one person can change the life of another in the most remarkable of ways. I’m forever grateful for her and I aspire every day to her kindness.
Where can people find you online to connect with you?
My blog url is www.nishav360.com
My Twitter Handle is @Nisha360