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Pedals, gears, and poles: India's makeshift wheelchairs

Thousands of disabled commuters navigate busy streets of New Delhi in wheelchairs that look like bikes, powering themselves with their hands and steering with a metal pole.

By Rebecca ByerlyContributor / March 29, 2012



New Delhi

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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 At first glance, Su Kumar could be taken for a bicyclist. Pedaling through the snarl of cars, trucks, buses, and donkey carts, he rolls right along with New Delhi’s chaotic traffic. But instead of using his feet, Mr. Kumar, who uses a wheelchair, pedals with his hands. He’s one of thousands of disabled commuters in the capital who navigate the city on wheels.

In a country that has few amenities for those with disabilities, innovation is critical. Kumar’s wheelchair looks like a three-wheeled bike with a bucket seat. He travels about 10 miles to work each day, powering himself with his hands and steering with a metal pole.

Kumar has been unable to walk since he was a child. But he considers himself fortunate. Fifteen years ago, a local charity gave him his wheelchair, which cost more than $100. He says it has made all the difference.

“I can do everything with this wheelchair,” says Kumar with a smile.

Wheelchair users not only navigate Delhi’s tricky streets, they have turned their wheelchairs into makeshift stores, barbershops, and vegetable stalls.
On a sweltering afternoon, a group of jabbering children surrounds a man juggling dripping ice-cream cones amid the honking cars. He moves with ease. It takes an experienced eye to notice that he’s in a wheelchair that is attached to his ice cream cart.

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