Love, according to the countless stories we have heard and seen, knows no boundaries. Yet, more often than not, love doesn’t come easily to the disabled. We live in a nation with 80 million people with disabilities, and of these, less than five percent end up getting married. Most of the population of people with disabilities does not have partners. Most dating or matchmaking apps currently available are not accessible, inclusive or have a higher churn rate for people with disability. In such a scenario, a unique matchmaking app, Inclov (Inclusive Love) is trying to allow people with disabilities, not just a chance at love, but also at things that ‘normal’ people in love can do – such as party, romantic dates, meet-ups, etc.
Initially founded as a boutique matchmaking agency for people with disabilities (called Wanted Umbrella back then ) in 2014, Inclov, the world’s first matchmaking app for people with disabilities is giving a chance for everyone to be included in a world that has love. “I don’t think anyone deserves to be alone unless they want to,” says Shankar Srinivasan, co-founder of the app. Inclov was launched on 21 January 2016 and over 10,000 users and has played cupid to around 5,000 matches on the app from over 50 cities. Of these, 87 percent people are active throughout the day.
“Two part-time developers have programmed Inclov—one of them is visually impaired himself,” says Shankar. Incidentally, the app is fully accessible to people with visual impairment through a screen reader and talkback application. Users need to download the app from the Play Store and create an account which then goes through verification and review process. Once this is done, you can start connecting, says Srinivasan, “It is a made to be very secure for all users,” he says. “It matches people on the basis of cure, the level of independence, instruments used and lifestyle choices. We curate profiles, there is a review process, mobile verification and in-chat feature so you don’t have to disclose personal contact details. We further ensure that no screenshots are taken on Inclov by disabling the feature,” says Ravin Gupta, Chief Technical Officer for the App.
And Inclov welcomes EVERYONE, not just persons with disabilities. “Even people without a disability can get on it. Inclov does not exclude anyone. It is an equal access platform for anyone wanting to look for a life partner,” says Srinivasan, who believes that the sexuality and needs of disabled people are currently being ignored by society. “We are dealing with a blindfold. They can, should and deserve to experience everything you and I can. They just tend to do it differently but so does everyone else. So the app is for anyone and everyone ‘different’ from what is considered mainstream,” he adds.
Working For Inclusion
The most interesting aspect of Inclov is their offline meet up program called ‘Social Spaces’ – an offline community meet up where the aim is to provide an equal platform for everyone with or without a disability to come and meet in-person. Social spaces give individuals a chance to meet people in an inclusive environment. “So far we have had meetups at Delhi, Jaipur, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Chennai and Bangalore; we shall also be holding them at Pune and Hyderabad. But people travel to different cities for this – so you shall have someone travelling from Hyderabad will go to Chennai Social Space or somebody from Delhi would go to Jaipur Social Space- because they also want to meet new people,” says Shankar.
The meet-ups are totally inclusive, in the sense that there are ramps at the entry and exit points, washrooms are accessible at a certain height and there are sign language instructors for the help of the hearing impaired – so that everyone can participate.
“The point of all of this is to get them out of that social isolation and help them make more friends. We’re not saying that you should just go to this social space and meet your life partner, we’re saying that this is an interesting way of meeting new people and if you find someone interesting then feel free to take things forward with them,” says Imran, CMO at Inclov.
They even held India’s first inclusive nightlife meetup for people with/without disabilities at Kitty Su, Delhi on 25 June, 2017 and followed it up with one at Kitty Su at The Lalit in Chandigarh. “Inclov’s Social Spaces started last year with only five people in a café. But over the last year, we have had more than 20 meetups at beaches, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and now at a night club. At Kitty Su Delhi, it was so jam-packed that we even had to close registrations two days before the meetup.” says Shankar.
Chandigarh saw its first-ever inclusive nightlife party for people with disabilities, who seemed to have a gala time. For many attending the meet-up, this was a dream come true as they had scarred memories of having been denied entry into a nightclub earlier due to their disabilities. Manish, who faces polio, and attended the party at Kitty Su in Delhi was also present at the Social Space at Kitty Su in Chandigarh. “I had gone to a club with my friends in Kolkata, but was denied entry because I was in a wheelchair. It had affected me,” recalls Manish, who is an infotech associate with a multinational company. “Today is a dream come true for me; to be able to drink, dance, and party like everyone else. I can’t thank Inclov enough for providing this opportunity,” he added. The biggest highlight of the night was when DJ Aamish, who is also wheelchair-bound, took over the console to spin music and make the crowd go wild. He belted out one hit dance track after another, all sitting in his wheelchair and said, “This is the first time we’ll not be seen as ‘different’. I have played in Delhi earlier and I like it because I get a chance to perform in front of people who won’t judge you for your disability, but on the basis of your talent. It’s something that makes you feel respected. The disabled never seek your pity. We hate being called ‘bechara’. Just give us a chance and see what we are capable of.”
The staff of Kitty Su was given a sensitisation training to handle the special guests. Also, the hotel’s entire staff, be it security marshals or waiters or bartenders, was given half a day’s training in sign language basics. Shankar has a special word of thanks for the Lalit Group and says, “Mr Keshav Suri was just so welcoming to the idea of an inclusive night at Kitty Su for people with disabilities. We have found a champion in him. The Lalit Hotel and Kitty Su staff, in particular, has been very helpful in ensuring that our night party socials are a big hit with our guests.”
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh