Shruti Pushkarna | Lessons from 2020: Time to think mainstream solutions for all

17 Dec,2020

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna

 

2020 is finally coming to an end. We all agree on what a waste this year was, considering how our plans were reversed, lives disrupted and holidays canceled. As for work, we found new ways of functioning and remaining productive amidst a global pandemic. Truth is we survived this terrible year and the next one is just round the corner.

 

Typically, in December, people think of resolutions, goals, budgets, but our lives are still shrouded in uncertainty. When will the vaccine be rolled out? Will it be effective? How long before we build herd immunity so that we can go back to normalcy just like in the pre-Covid days?

 

No easy answers there. How about ending 2020 by acknowledging things that SARS COV-2 helped us discover, as individuals and as a society?

 

The most important thing I have learnt especially while working with persons with disabilities is, the key to surviving (and thriving) is ‘acceptance’. When Covid struck, people were frustrated. The government called for a nationwide lockdown leaving us with no choice but to accept our situation. When we accept, we stop fighting with the problem and start channelizing our energy into finding possible solutions.

 

Operating from home is a case in point. In the absence of physical spaces to work, study, exercise, hang out or play, we found alternatives within our residential confines. We modified our living situations to make room for daily routines that were conducted outside earlier.

 

Acceptance leads to possibilities. Yet another learning.

 

There are always alternatives, a different line of thinking and a new way of processing limitations. The disabled world knows it well. For persons with disabilities, the only real barrier is a negative attitude. Responses like ‘no, can’t do’, ‘not possible’, ‘not equipped’, ‘can’t happen’, exclude them from majority of mainstream activities.

 

The past year may have helped the ableist society realise some such truths. Thanks to Covid, now we know that possibilities are only limited by our (collective) imagination. When able bodied people like you and me were denied access to our regular environment, we created a close replica in the form of a virtual universe.

 

Barrier-free access is something persons with disabilities across the world have been fighting for, over decades. Attending school or college, getting a job in an office, watching a movie, reading a book, traveling, dining, sightseeing, even accessing social media or other digital services, poses serious challenges to the disabled. But we have never thought of mainstream solutions to these problems because their impairment has been grounds for an almost legit exclusion.

 

We are all intrinsically selfish, is also a lesson learnt, though this one’s hardly exclusive to 2020.

 

If the society accepts differences in abilities rather than typecasting people as ‘incapable’ or labeling them as ‘invalid’, we can start building an inclusive environment for all. Innovation in technology and increased internet penetration makes it easier to allow access to a larger, heterogeneous group.

 

Let me state some obvious examples from the current scenario. Disabled students are attending online classes with the help of smartphones and computers along with able-bodied peers. Similarly, jobs are being carried out remotely, irrespective of physical impairments. OTT platforms have a wider share of the content viewing pie and their audience includes persons with different types of disabilities. Banking and other financial transactions are taking place online, albeit certain access issues. And the list goes on.

 

When Covid-19 rendered us helpless despite all our defence mechanisms, we didn’t give up. We simply started safeguarding afresh. Among those who have survived the virus, some have experienced temporary disabilities, and there are others who have developed chronic illnesses due to partial respiratory or renal failure. But we are not blaming their karma for the medical outcome, are we?

 

Why can’t we see the disabled people without the stigmatised lens too? If there is hope for a better tomorrow, then why shouldn’t similar optimism be extended to someone with a hearing, speech, visual or locomotor impairment?

 

It’s time we acknowledged that the differences we see in people and situations, first emanate in our minds. What we actually choose to see outside is a mere reflection of that mindset.

 

Here is an idea to carry forward to 2021. Let’s never forget what a person is capable of, given appropriate environment and aids. Let’s stop walling off people with problems presumably different from our own.

 

 

Shruti Pushkarna heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has moved full-time to the social sector. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna

 

 

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