We fumble for a candle or our cell phones when we have a sudden power cut. We desperately search for a hold in moving trains and buses.We find it difficult to cross the road when there is heavy traffic.We would have fallen many times while learning to ride a bicycle. We need both our hands sometimes to master small tasks like cutting, tearing, and in fact, eating. When we are not able to master such situations, don’t we feel “disabled” at that time?
I do not want to use the term “disabled” because people without a leg master themselves to move, with other alternatives available. A blind man uses the sense of touch to feel objects around him. A deaf-and-mute person uses sign language to communicate. These people have learned the hard ways of mastering things and basic needs. They utilise the minimum resources possible to get their work done and be self-reliable. It’s cost-effective. So I call them as “persons with disabilities”.
They do accept these challenges and work on them. It is really hard to walk with artificial aids given to them. Previously they were made of wood! Now people have become sensitive enough to customise the aids according to different needs and provide lightweight aids made of plastic for people with disability. So one can imagine how much of effort should a person make just for the usage and maintenance of those aids. What about the “normal” people? Can we survive with just one leg or a hand?
Now, who are the “disabled”? How can we call them “disabled” when we ourselves lack a lot of needed skills. Persons with disabilities are talented enough to use the minimal resources to live their life.The society stops them from being self-dependent by removing all the opportunities for them to grow and handicaps them. Just like introducing a power-cut in our lives so that our eyes are made useless.
Are our local buses, malls, theatres, colleges, schools, government buildings, or religious centres like temples, mosques, and churches equipped to support the persons with disabilities? They have the right to lead a normal life. They want to go to malls, theatres, schools, colleges too.
As a part of my internship in an organisation named Mobility India, I had to help a girl, with disabilities, enroll in a school. Due to financial constraints, she had to drop-out earlier and again felt the urge to educate herself. I took her to five different schools, all government except one. They refused to admit her since they found her incapable of accessing the areas of the school building. Why is she being labeled “incapable”? The government has a law that all government schools are supposed to have infrastructure that is accessible to people with disabilities. They equally have the rights to education as any other child.
I myself witnessed some government schools in Bangalore that were not equipped to include “Persons with Disabilities” (PWDs). They turned down an admission for a girl who had multiple disabilities. Since the infrastructure lacked in providing her with the essentials: there were no ramps, the toilets were not equipped etc. The school was also unable to supply a caretaker to cater to the girl’s needs.
One of the schools had a separate class for people with mental disabilities. I saw them being physically abused by the teachers. In another school, they did not even open the gate to let us in and shooed us away when we tried to represent our issue. The teachers were very condescending. Finally, one private school was ready to admit her but her guardian was not able to afford the money in spite of the concessions the school was willing to give the family.
My own institution, Christ College (where I was pursuing my master’s degree) has not got the infrastructure to support the persons with disability though it is rated best for the same among other colleges in Bangalore. A professor from Delhi had to attend a conference. She, along with the wheelchair, was dragged down the stairs by four people to get her to the ground floor. Will Christ college pay for the wheel chair’s damage? What is going to cost them so much to design a building which is supportive for the PWDs?
The irony is that the society plays an active role to “impair” the productivity of PWDs because of their perceived “impairment”. The society has put a curse on them, neglected them by perceiving and labeling them as a “burden”.
By making just a few changes in the infrastructure or the environment in general, we can educate, employ and empower many people with disabilities.