Shruti Pushkarna: Busted: 10 Myths & Clichés about Disability

30 Jun,2022

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna

 

Have you mindlessly indulged in stereotyping because that’s what you have seen or heard thus far? Let me tell you, this oversight is equivalent to promoting those clichés. You are just as guilty.

 

Here are 10 myths that have grown into commonly accepted facts over the years.

 

1. Disabled people have a sixth sense

No, this is no M Night Shyamalan movie. God doesn’t compensate for the loss of one sense, by giving the disabled a superpower. There is no ‘divine ability’, really. There are abilities and talents which are cultivated by the person, nothing ‘divyaang’ about them. Sorry, Modi ji.

 

2. Disability is a result of bad karma

‘Pichchle janam ke karam’! Honestly, why are we so dramatic about a condition that can be explained easily in clinical terms? Someone born with a locomotor disability is ridiculed and excluded because of a supposedly bad karmic connection. Only yesterday I heard the latest mandate on radio, by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, for carmakers to provide six air bags in eight-seater vehicles. If you haven’t already made the connection: there are around 1.5 lakh people killed in five lakh accidents across the country. A sizeable number gets injured, some even left disabled. Is this tragedy attributed to past life or this one, how does it work? Because if it’s past karma, then let’s not hold automobile manufacturers or the government responsible for anything.

 

3. Visually impaired people are hard of hearing too

Often, I have seen people talk loudly to a blind person, almost yelling at them. Even better, they address the person accompanying them, assuming the person is not only blind but deaf also. What’s worse is that sometimes people question the overall ability of blind people to decide for themselves. Huh. I was once on a flight with my ex-boss who is visually impaired, and the airhostess refused to give him coffee, stating that serving a hot beverage mid-air is dangerous for him. Not only was I appalled at the supposition, but irked because she won’t communicate it directly to him! Is it really so hard to accept the loss of one sense without doubting the remaining four?

 

4. Disabled people are asexual

The inability to have sex in the usual style as we understand it, does not make disabled folk bereft of human desire or biological needs. There are tools and aids available to help them enjoy coitus in their own adaptive way. Doesn’t sex help release stress, allowing you to let go et cetera? Who needs it more than somebody confined and underestimated because of the lack of access and imagination of the so-called normal society? There’s a market for accessible sex toys for persons with disabilities, clearly someone worked out the economics of demand and supply.

 

5. Persons with hearing impairment can read lips

If this were true, what was the need for sign language? Also, every time a hearing impaired person needs to be included in a conversation, they have to be in visible distance from the person ‘talking’. Do you really want me to spell out the numerous times that is not possible? And what about during the pandemic or in the post-Covid world, when masking is common practice? Yes, there are transparent or clear masks available, but there are also a lot of hearing disabled individuals who cannot read lips. And those who gain proficiency with practice, lose out on chunks of conversations due to the variations in the pace and manner of speaking.

 

6. Persons with disability are anti-social

I mean even it were true, it would seem logical. Years of isolation and stigmatisation is bound to make them feel unwanted. Socializing is again a function of access to people and environments. Whether a person is introvert or not, can be determined only after giving them a fair chance to engage. A lot of disabled people who manage to step out, go from special schools to vocational programmes. They follow set routines because of limited access to physical spaces and dependency on the caregiver. I know some gregarious folk who have the ability and choice to navigate the physical or digital space independently.

 

7. God will help us if we help a person with disability

Charity done with the supreme objective of self-gratification. Ugh. We all know of people who donate items on their birth anniversaries, don’t we? An annual ritual to help acquire some good karma so you are not born with a disability in the next life. I’ve seen people insist on feeding 13 blind children at 10.17 am on Monday just to placate the angry ‘nakshatras’. Interesting how we never think of the receiver of these offerings, however sacred they may be.

 

8. Disabled people only feel pain or sorrow

Emotions are not simplistic. Neither are human beings. And disabled folk are also people who experience varied emotions at different times. Some of them may be in pain a lot, so frustrated easily. But they are equally capable of laughing at a joke, experiencing joy and don’t always dwell on their disability. Life is as colourful or complicated for them as it might be for you and me.

 

9. Disabled people don’t like venturing out

If you have enough money, you can plan trips and adventures. I know foodies who eat up their entire salary, savouring sumptuous meals. Not that you always need money to indulge in excursions, but it helps. Persons with disability in addition need access to the physical environment they want to explore and help with communication in that setup. There are several solutions available for that, some at a price, some not so much. The only reason you don’t imagine them to take off on a holiday at the drop of a hat, is because they are limited by the surrounding ecosystem. Not by their disability, always.

 

10. Persons with mental illness are violent

Yes, we have all seen many Hollywood and Bollywood depictions. Characters with mental health disorders have tangled hair, beady eyes and shabby clothes. They are dressed up to frighten and shock the audience. My all-time favourite is the 1980 classic ‘The Shining’, one of the many psychological thrillers that exaggerate and misrepresent ‘madness’.

 

Shruti Pushkarna is a former journalist who now works as Director, EnAble India where she heads North India operations as well as media and communications outreach. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna

 

 

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