Even as athletes participating in the World Dwarf Games returned victorious with as many as 37 medals from the games, the homecoming of one of its athlete was not as he had expected.
Joby Mathew, the differently-abled athlete received less than a hero’s welcome at the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) on Friday.
The 41-year-old arm-wrestler had bagged six medals, two of which were gold, at the World Dwarf Games held in Canada.
The athlete, who is physically challenged from birth with 60 per cent disabilities, was left humiliated when he hired a taxi at the Cochin International Airport. The taxi driver reversed the car for 25 meters to pick him up. The airport authority then chained the taxi while Joby was sitting inside, claiming the driver had violated traffic rule. To his frustration, Joby was left sitting in the taxi for 45 minutes.
“The Sports Council had arranged reception on my return. There was a lot of rush at the gates. The taxi driver tried to stop the vehicle to pick me up some 25 meters further down the exit. The authorities seeing this chained the vehicle with me inside. I wonder why the airport authorities have never followed the rules to assure facilities for person with disabilities. I haven’t seen it anywhere in the airport. Either they don't have any special passages for the differently-abled or they have built it in some unnoticed corner," Joby said.
While Joby agrees that the taxi driver may have violated a rule in his enthusiasm, he asks why the authorities could not have shown more empathy. "In other countries, they are empathetic to people with disabilities," he says.
Joby has severely under-developed legs leaving him at a height of three feet five inches height. Joby says unlike in other airports, parking facility for disabled people in the airport is about 1 km away which is inconvenient.
"The driver simply tried to bring me out the crowd without causing inconvenience to me, that too without troubling the other passengers. He even parked the vehicle in a side corner for not to cause any obstruction. I have travelled to many countries. Everywhere there are facilities for differently-abled persons. Here they try to make matters worse,” he adds.
However, the CIAL authorities defended their decision.
"The taxi which was hired by Joby Mathew violated the one-way rule. We had no option but to prevent it as it is high risk to allow the vehicle to come from the wrong side of one way. Also, Joby could have informed us about his arrival and requested for facilities like a wheelchair, which is the normal procedure when differently-abled people travel. He didn’t ask for it," said PS Jayan, CIAL Corporate Communications Manager.