There is always a stigma attached with disability

For the first time in the history of Nagaland, the chief minister’s speech was interpreted using sign language during the 73rd Independence Day celebrations this year. This has come about as a ray of hope for people with disabilities in the state of Nagaland, when, for so long, their rights have often been ignored and shelved only in the minds of those being affected.

Social media, being a platform where most people are simply ranting and complaining or commenting on anything and everything, this piece of news also garnered comments indicating that the interpretation of using sign language was of not much use and whether there was anybody in the audience who benefited from it or not. Reading through the comments, it made me realise even more how much our society is lacking awareness on issues of disability. But that, a beginning like this is so important to instil in the minds of people that however small the population of people with disabilities, they deserve every right that any other human being is entitled to.

Most of us grow up being unaware of issues surrounding them because we are not used to seeing them around. There is always a stigma attached to it. So much so that when children come across another child with a disability, they immediately think there’s something terribly wrong with him/her. One of the mistakes, I think, we have made as a society is that most families tend to keep them behind closed doors possibly for fear of discrimination against them. Which is why they are hardly seen in public places and when one or two of them come out, we look at them with a perspective that’s not always healthy. This is especially true in the rural areas, where they are left to live their lives in the confines of their own homes.

Perhaps this is one reason why our public spaces are still ill-equipped to cater to the needs of people with disabilities. Most of our market places, hotels, offices or institutions/universities are still not disabled-friendly. The process of change, in this regard, should begin with the change of mindset because the mind is a powerful thing.

In some small ways though, things are slowly changing thanks to the untiring efforts of a few individuals and groups who are directly or indirectly affected by issues of disability. We now have schools catering to the needs of special children such as Bumblebee Pre School, Cherry Blossoms School, Tabitha Enabling Academy, Jo Foundation and the like. The noble efforts that have gone into the making of these schools must be appreciated because this is where special children prepare themselves and take their first flight into a world that is not always kind and welcoming.

I remember doing an interview with the Tabitha Enabling Academy when they initially took off in the year 2012. A picture of that memory is still vivid in my mind where a “three-year old girl plays normally with a special child in a cozy little place. She seems to understand the exact sentiments of her friend with disability even as she and the others delight in doing favours for that special child”. This normalcy didn’t happen overnight but took the academy a couple of months to get there. Initially, I was told this same little girl did not wish to acquaint herself with the special child because her friend looked a little different, walked a little different, talked and acted a little different. It was just a matter of getting used to the idea of living with people with special needs.

Disability rights activist Diethono Nakhro

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I also always look up to Diethono Nakhro, my former editor, who despite having been left paralysed by a spine injury in 2006, never gave up on living life to the fullest; who, after her treatment, gave a ray of hope to the differently-abled by championing the cause of people of disabilities in every way possible. Deservingly, she was later awarded the NCPEDP Lemon Tree Helen Keller Award in 2015 in the category of ‘Role Model Person with Disability’.

Her appointment as the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has also filled a huge gap. There are positive things afoot as is visible from the many positive changes surfacing in this aspect under her leadership. When you have the right person for the right position, things slowly begin to fall into place. She has been a torchbearer, a much-needed inspiration to right a lot of wrong, creating a better place for people with disabilities. The world needs more people like her to champion the many causes of our society.

As for us, the greatest thing we can ever do is to embrace and accept people with disabilities as one of us. That they are no lesser human being but are people with even more special abilities. Many times, it is stigma and discrimination that is the real killer. We kill the very right of people to live normal lives just by discriminating them. And so, it is of utmost importance that we change our mindsets first and foremost, and start looking at people with disabilities not with hopelessness but as we would see anybody else, capable of realising their full potential if only they are treated right and given the opportunities, facilities and accessibility which they rightly deserve.

As Yvonne Pierre says, “When you focus on someone’s disability you’ll overlook their abilities, beauty and uniqueness. Once you learn to accept and love them for who they are, you subconsciously learn to love yourself unconditionally.” We lose nothing by showing a little care, a little love or a little kindness, and we should never reserve these only for those we like but give our utmost to make this world a better place by sharing as much good and positive vibes as possible. We must always remember that people with disabilities want to live life no differently than anyone else. They want to be able to go shopping, go to the movies, go out to eat, work, and enjoy life as any one of us do.

(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over 10 years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)

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