Shruti Pushkarna: Time to look beyond differences and embrace inclusion?

18 Nov,2021

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna

 

Happiness. Equality. Anxiety. Compassion. Empathy. Trauma. Sensitivity. Embrace. Frenzy. Love.

 

When I sat down to write this piece, my state of mind threw up these words. Growing up or ‘maturing’, as we call it, teaches us to filter our words, sentences and even emotions. Very often to suit others or portray a better version of ourselves. Does it mean that we are trying to hide the ‘real’ us? Or does it mean that the world is obsessed with certain perceptions of ‘you’ and ‘me’, and we simply have to live up to those?

 

Are we being judged? Or we judging all along? Or is it both?

 

Human beings are a strange heterogenous mix. The word ‘complex’ perhaps comes close to explaining our kind. Studies in psychology aver that each individual is different in more ways than one.

 

And yet we put people through our homogeneous lens, expecting them to fit our definition of ‘normal’, one that we are ready to ‘accept’.

 

Just the other day, I was reading a blog by a hearing-impaired person who grew up thinking there was something so wrong with him, that he kept hiding his disability. His (mis)understanding emanated from the horror films he watched as a kid. The villain was always a strange looking person, with peculiar behaviour that distinguished him from the rest of the crowd. This kid grew up aligning himself to this ‘incongruous’ character used to bring out fear and panic in the viewers’ psyche.

 

Internalisation of ideas and emotions. That’s the next roadblock. In accepting who ‘we’ are and consequently colouring our perception of others.

 

So, what is the point of this lengthy prologue?

 

Through this series on ‘Media and Disability’, I have consistently addressed the issues around stereotypes and misconceptions that push the disabled population to the fringes, outside the so-called ‘inner circles’ of mainstream society.

 

But I am beginning to wonder whether this pattern of ‘othering’ is limited to disability. The past year-and-a-half, ridden with Covid and its aftermath, has brought out new sides of people. Some good, some not so great. But revealing, in terms of ideology and life philosophy. Come to think of it, experiences during the pandemic have altered people’s beliefs dramatically.

 

In the first lockdown of 2020, I recall individuals and organizations coming together to help those in need. So many families took it upon themselves to cook and serve meals to the elderly, poor and other vulnerable groups. With human noises slowly abating, nature’s inherent music came to life, giving us glimpses of a utopia of sorts. A world where people stopped to think who lives next door, upstairs or in the house across the street.

 

News coverage and social media sensitised citizens about the plight of migrant labourers, students’ struggles with online tests and classes, financial predicament of breadwinners after salary cuts, challenges of mothers working from home and to some extent, difficulties unleashed by social distancing for persons with disabilities dependent on caregivers.

 

For a little while, we cared. And then, as our lives switched into new ‘gears of normalcy’, old habits resurfaced. As soon as the lockdown rules eased, masks came sliding down. Shopping plazas were crowded again. Fake negative test reports circulated as tourists populated hill stations and holiday resorts. In short, we ceased to care about another individual whose well-being could be compromised because of our choices.

 

Barriers in inclusion and access for the disabled are also fueled by a similar indifference towards the needs of another. Actually, towards a whole section of the population that is conveniently ‘invisible’ to the majority.

 

The launch of so many new mobile applications and online services has made life easier. Business, shopping, entertainment and education, all work through a digital interface today. How many of these innovative solutions are developed considering user requirements of persons with disabilities?

 

There is no dearth of tech gurus in the media today. Also, everybody and their uncle are tech genii on social media. Yet we know so little about how technology can enable a person with vision impairment to work on the computer, or a deaf-blind person to use a smartphone to communicate. Millions of disabled folks can live and function independently if technology companies target them as part of their native user base.

 

I hear the phrase ‘paradigm shift’ a lot in the context of changing mindsets towards persons with disabilities. The fatal virus has definitely given us hope that a paradigm shift is possible. Whether we need another pandemic for that, I leave it to you to decipher.

 

Shruti Pushkarna is a former journalist who now works as a programmes and media specialist for the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna

 

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