The Worlds Wheelchair Culture
02.23.07

Paraplegic Ajith campaigns for equality to all
By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
from The Nation - Sri Lanka

“The saddest thing in Sri Lanka is that administrators have tragically forgotten that we are a rapidly ageing population. Unless and until their basic needs are met at match venues, we will soon lose this increasing big sector of the population at grounds,”

One of the greatest tragedies that could happen to anyone and has robbed the country of someone qualified in many fields is the unfortunate accident that Dr. Ajith C.S. Perera experienced. Like any other mortal Perera was destined for a brilliant career academically and professionally both in Sri Lanka and England in a strange mix of cricket and chemistry.

He was for the record, a chartered chemist by profession and a Fellow of many a prestigious body counting over ten years of work experience as a senior manager/director with two multinational pharmaceutical companies. Besides playing division one cricket, his professional achievements in the cricketing sphere extended to almost all vital avenues of the game.

At his own expense he arranged to go to England and become not only a qualified Umpire (1985), but a Scorer (1987), an advanced Scorer (1989), a competent Training Instructor (1990) and finally in 1997 an Examiner on the Laws of Cricket, of the prestigious professional body, the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers England.
In 1990 he was afforded the rare opportunity to umpire matches in England in Lancashire at county four-day second eleven and in topmost professional leagues in the area, to acquire that much needed experience at higher level and gain exposure to professional competitive cricket.

Then in 1992 at the age of 35, he was appointed to the six-member Test match panel of senior cricket umpires. Almost on the eve of umpiring his first Test match Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, a wayside tree crashed on his moving car to leave him instantaneously a paraplegic for life.

Many would have simply lost all hope after that kind of accident and may have turned into a wreck in life. But Perera was made of sterner stuff. He did not let such a handicap – living the rest of his lifetime on a wheelchair defeat him. It only made him stronger in mind and heart to continue serving cricket, the game he so fondly loved.

Perera’s dedication and devotion to the game was stupendous. Seated on a wheelchair, battling paraplegia and balancing a laptop, he wrote two A-4 size books, ‘Golden Era of Sri Lankan Cricket’ (1999) and ‘Thinking Cricket’ (2002) - the only self training manual by an umpire for the players, written and also published by him without any external financial support. They not only won wide international recognition but enabled him in 2005 to win a special award at the annual literary awards festival organised by the Municipal Council of Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia. It marked the first ever recognition received nationally for sports literature at a literary festival in this country to-date.
Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, widely regarded as the cricketers’ ‘bible’ in its millennium edition in 2000 recognised Perera as one of its ‘Cricket People of 1999’.

Not satisfied with what he had achieved Perera is now on an ‘Enabling Environments for Everyone’ campaign especially at sporting venues in Sri Lanka. He is a pioneer campaigner in this field.
With the government declaring 2007 as a ‘Year of Accessibility’ under the theme ‘Accessibility Enables Everyone’, Perera is more than determined to see that something tangible is done during the year to enable easy access to public places by wheelchair users.

   

“Over 30% of our population, experience reduced ability to move and climb even a few steps. Also included here are the much talked ‘War Heroes’ of ours from the three armed services and police. A whole spectrum of impairments affects different people, at different points in their lives,” said Perera. “In fact chances are very high that each and every one of us, for different reasons, is certain to spend some of our time facing this reality. But, 70% of these numbers are still, healthy and able people, very much wanting to get going with daily activities of life,” Perera continued.

He recalled how three years ago when the England cricket team was to tour Sri Lanka there were numerous inquiries from wheelchair-using travellers and tourists whose spending capacities unimaginably run very high, to come here.
“But they were turned away due to total absence of essential basic facilities at match venues and at our ‘star-class’ hotels. Sri Lanka also earned a black mark for the forgetfulness to respect the diversity of people and thereby much talked equality of treatment,” said Perera.

As a first step, he said it must be made mandatory to turn public buildings put up by business sector giants at sports venues, ‘Enabling for Everyone’, by a specified date within 2007. “It will build not only better business to our cricket, but better image to Sri Lanka”.

“The backbone to their success is that, they see and respect the inevitable ‘disability of people’ as human diversity and realise it is their moral responsibility to welcome all people to the matches with empathetically modified facilities at grounds. The money spent here is considered as a ‘big Investment’, not expenditure. They understand that every person is a potential income earning opportunity for them and that a spectator loss is a loss of revenue opportunity. Corporate and hospitality areas at these club grounds, on most of the days in summer (and often even in winter) are booked in advance for various social gatherings and business meetings, even on non-match days,” said Perera.

A bachelor, Perera lives at Arthur’s Place, Dehiwela with his 80-year-old mother Maureen whom he describes as ‘my anchor in life’s ocean’. His late father Instructor Commander M.G.S. Perera was a naval training director for 23 years.

NOTE: This article has been edited to fit into the Paralinks article size rule. For the full article go to: http://www.nation.lk/2007/02/18/sports3.htm

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