By Venkatesh Raghavan
Kolkata: Ramp walks, dance performances, sporting activities and music events are no longer to be an exclusive privilege of the well-endowed kids, both mentally and physically or for that matter, slim sleek models in the world of fashion and design. “This clichéd perception is what we intend to change in order to make the world of fashion and other liberal arts besides sports more inclusive and egalitarian in nature,” said Rakesh Dhasmana, convener of AIMS Media, a social enterprise working in the field of education and disability.
The third version of Dhasmana’s initiative will be held in Kolkata’s iconic Science City Auditorium on November 19, 2022, to rebuild and reconstruct the mass perception centring on the world of fashion, performing arts and sports, and provide avenues for children and youth with disabilities. They will not only compete but also showcase their talent pool during ramp walks in front of huge audiences. It is a social initiative to discover the hidden talents of persons with disabilities in the fields of Clothing, Fashion, Art, Music, Dance and Sports through social events and exhibitions.
The unique ramp walks being tagged as ‘Walk with a difference’ (WWAD) were first conducted in 2015 in New Delhi and then in 2016 in Bengaluru where disabled mannequins were also launched.
“Fashion with Disability is still a paradox in India and globally, where conservative thinking sees disability as a challenge and separates it from looks, fashion and style,” Dhasmana said. He added: “The way WWAD has been designed makes it unique, great and equitable – all with a competitive ecosystem, it also gives an equal opportunity to showcase intrinsic talent and be a part of a promising industry. The finalists who emerged from WWAD’s previous events not only achieved a milestone but also contributed to a paradigm shift in the inclusive-fashion industry. “
Subsequently after a gap of six years, partly owing to designing a fresh outlook towards opportunities for children with disabilities and Covid19 that consumed two years of time, Dhasmana is back with a bang to host WWAD with able assistance from Kolkata’s homegrown social organization Transcendent Knowledge Society (TKS).
Dhasmana aims at bringing into spotlight and enhancing the career prospects of disabled children in India. “It’s not only about granting them exposure to appreciative audiences but also to serve as a springboard for what promises the future holds in their lives. We have tough rounds of competition and filtering before short-listing the final 30 who will be showcased at the performance. Our jurors are from diverse backgrounds and are well-suited in checking the participants against 60 different parameters, with each member of the six-bench jury being in charge of 10 parameters,” Dhasmana disclosed.
The categories of disabled range from autism spectrum disorder, acid attack survivors, and dwarfism, besides other common physical and mental disability genres. The 30 finalists are being made to undergo a one-week intense grooming programme at Manovikas Kendra Rehabilitation and Research Institute for the Handicapped, under the guidance of experts, before they perform for a live audience on November 19. The first two versions of WWAD took place in New Delhi and subsequently in Bengaluru. Their choice of venue Kolkata for the third version is also with an eye on the sporting crowd of the city. In Kolkata, the event has three phases – auditions, followed by capacity building, and then culminating into the Grand Finale.
When touched on the comfort factor for children and youth travelling to the contesting venue, Dhasmana said that as a convener of the event, “I have taken maximum care to ensure that the participants have a comfortable travel and stay time. We do extend our hospitality especially when it comes to providing food and lodging space.”
Dhasmana is also eying the event turning into a major success in the forthcoming years by attracting more and more participants and audiences from all corners of India. Apart from popularizing, the event is also aimed at increasing awareness among people at large about children from disabled backgrounds having the ability to perform well, be it on a ramp or a dance floor or on the sporting arena. “The talent scouts for our event have a really tough time as intensely competitive situations strike an emotional chord when it comes to elimination rounds,” he concluded.