Last year, I couldn’t explain the charm of hanging out at the candy floss man’s station to a visually-impaired tiny tot. When speaking to Dr Ferdinand Rodricks, an automotive engineer, accessibility and inclusivity campaigner, proprietor of Ferro Equip and the only person in the city to modify vehicles for the differently-abled for nearly three decades, this thought recurred when he said, “We need to sensitise society about the differently-abled right from the time they are children and in school that the best way to do so is by including them in our every day activities. The more they mingle with the crowd, the more we’ll realise how they are just like us and it doesn’t need much to included in our activities.”
Start them young
“Children see their grandparents deal with health issues with extra care; once they’re introduced to the differently-abled they’ll realise how the same thing applies in these cases too.” He says if educational institutions welcome differently-abled students and professors, it’ll be a great start to the inclusivity campaign. “They’ll ensure the necessary ramps and modifications to cater to their own people’s needs and it’ll become easier for the change to permeate into the society,” he opines. According to the laws, every place must be equipped to allow easy access to the differently-abled. “But that’s hardly the reality,” he laments.
Different strokes for different folks
As for himself, Dr Rodricks’ passion became a mission when he modified a vehicle for a friend Sanjay Joshi, a double amputee, who in his own words motivates him unendingly and “planted the seeds.” “Sanjay met me in his wheelchair and said I want to drive. I’ll customise a car, I replied and got to it. Mind you, a Maruti Gypsy is quite high and it’s tough for a disabled person to drive it but I worked it out.”
Then by word-of-mouth, people began to beat a road to his doorstep with specific requests. He still dreams of tweaking designs to fit every person’s own requirement. Because he affirms that “everyone has different requirements and our modifications should follow that.”
Aid the differently-abled
He shares an interesting theory. “Everything starts from the heart. We’ve so many heart issues because we’ve closed our hearts and become insensitive, as we’re to people with disabilities. We should ask ourselves if we do something is it to fulfil a need or only our pockets? Some buildings have ramps that are barely usable and their attitude is — how many people will use it anyway? I want to tell them, please safely install the necessary facilities, inform people and watch just many do. The differently-abled are sitting at home for lack of transportation, accessibility and choice, if that’s offered to them, why won’t they come.” Dr Rodricks has worked in a full-time job while continuing his passion to help as a labour of love, and one can only guess at the several instances he draws this theory from.
Just for fun
How does he dream up products like Amphibian and Trekking chairs in his extensive product line? “I love swimming and trekking, and asked myself why should they not enjoy themselves similarly? I wanted to share my joys.” While admitting that these gadgets are expensive, he suggests that “individuals don’t have to own them; societies and institutes can own and offer them to senior and differently-abled citizens.”
“Since just like us they too just want to have fun, I have designed my farmhouse, outside the city, for them to have the time of their lives. Entertainment is never a priority for them, and I try my best to bring that element to their lives,” he reasons. “When they ride my ATV or drive the go-kart I have fashioned for them, it’s fun to see the thrill they experience mostly for the first time in their lives.”
The swimming pool hoist that he fitted for the paraplegic rehabilitation centre is used by over 75 individuals in wheelchairs for hydrotherapy. There’s also another one fitted in a special school in Pune where students use it to train for the Paralympics and win medals. “I’ve realised that these gadgets are important in allowing them to function with dignity, something not possible otherwise. They’re usually at the mercy of other people’s help.”
A close encounter of a different kind
Dr Rodricks fondly recalls when Professor Stephen Hawking visited India in 2000 and the British Commission selected him to customise the physicist’s vehicle. “I asked for his wheelchair’s parameters and accordingly increased the height of the roof and built a ramp, because it was important to him that he board and deboard from the vehicle on his own.” The professor also invited our mobility specialist to a dinner to thank him.
He prizes his ability to visualise how a person will sit in a vehicle and what modifications can get this individual to safely and easily drive in it. This way he has been able to customise cars even for little persons. Dr Rodricks dreams of building an all-inclusive rehabilitation-cum-recreation centre where people notwithstanding their disability will be able to accomplish some of their dream experiences and have fun. Amen to that we say!