Is disability inclusion a far-fetched dream?

20 Oct,2022



By Shruti Pushkarna


Shruti PushkarnaI enjoy driving, especially if it’s interstate. Road trips both liberate and invigorate me. But I avoid getting behind the wheel at night due to my nearsightedness. I wear high minus lenses, or what optometrists call a strong prescription, and that makes it difficult to focus on the road with lights flashing in my eyes from front and/or rear.


Simply put, highway traffic is disabling for me. My eye condition in that sense is restrictive or even prohibitive. But in no way do I feel incapacitated or less than anyone else. And on several occasions, I have managed to steer towards my destination with lighting hiccups.


Myopia or any corneal issue is hardly termed a disability in the conventional sense of the word. It’s an impairment but I don’t recall being addressed as a person with vision impairment so far. Even though I struggle to see without my glasses or contact lenses.


For me, contacts solve two problems, one is cosmetic and the other is encountering people’s perception towards anyone with thick spectacles. They make the disability invisible. To another’s eye. For me, it stays tangible in every aspect of daily living.


Last month, I slipped in the bathroom and severely injured my knee. I was grounded for three weeks before I could start limping around the house. Trying to walk with very little pressure on the knee, I ended up exerting the ankle. That’s problematic because I live with a sore ankle, weakened by tissue damage multiple times. To lead a normal life, I have to exercise regularly and strengthen other muscles in the leg. Else, I experience trouble in walking and driving, in addition to excruciating pain.


But if I exercise, the said muscles for 15 minutes daily, I can cope. Doesn’t sound too complicated, right?


Except after two long hauls of Covid-19, regular exercise has been out of question for me. It took a while to understand the changes my body experienced due to the virus and overmedication. Fatigue and persistent fever weakened my system. The gut was also hit, making it impossible to digest foods or medicines that could help. Every time I attempt at building a healthy routine, I falter as some symptom (re)surfaces.


Are you already wondering what a mess I am? Or feel that I’m quite a ‘special’ case? Don’t worry you are not the only one thinking it. As frustrating as it maybe to live with a recurring series of problems, what’s worse is to be judged for it.


Your family, friends, colleagues and employers project biased perceptions, disregarding difficulties you grapple with, to counter those very judgmental eyeballs. You often become the butt of distasteful jokes. You stop mentioning your health problems to your closest circle of people. You show up to work even on days you are physically unfit. You overperform to exceed expectations, in both personal and professional space. So that you are accepted.


Yet the insensitivity disturbs and distresses.


Globally, one in seven of us live with a disability. And of those, 80% are invisible. That’s 1 billion people living with a non-visible disability. 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an invisible illness. Covid has added to this count, with an increasing number of people experiencing a long-term disabling condition, like Crohn’s disease, Liver Cirrhosis, Diabetes, Anxiety, Neurological and Intestinal disorders, et cetera. People have also been battling severe allergies, loss of smell, altered taste, brain fog, depression, brittle bones and more, in the post-Covid world. Furthermore, people with chronic illness are mired in Catch-22 scenarios, making it impossible to treat one condition without a worsening side effect.


According to Disability 100 Findings Report from May 2021, “No executives or senior managers at any of the FTSE 100 companies have disclosed they have a disability.” With no representation on the top, what is the probability of employees sharing their challenges at work?


Acceptance precedes accommodation. If we don’t see, hear or understand it, how will we build an inclusive ecosystem for all?


If you follow stories on disability or inclusion, you’d realise October is a month rife with awareness campaigns. Individuals and organisations working for disability rights have been busy sharing information and insights or curating events for World Cerebral Palsy Day (October 6), Blindness Awareness Month and Invisible Disabilities Week (October 16-22).


These annual observances are an opportunity to educate as well as remind people of the challenges and the courage, the dreams and the hurdles, the limitations and the successes, and most importantly, the different aspects of the lives of millions living with some form of disability. It’s a celebration as well as an acknowledgment of the diversity that exists.


But apart from niche accounts posting on Instagram or LinkedIn, there hasn’t been any significant mass coverage of the issues facing people living with cerebral palsy, blindness, mental and neurological disorders, chronic illnesses or other innumerous invisible disabilities. How come the Indian media remains oblivious to the prospect of sensitising the civil society towards a large and vulnerable section of the population?


So why are we publishing this column on an A&M site? Well, we strongly feel that the media can dramatically transform the world of persons with disabilities And this series can help bring forth issues that the media must champion to create a truly inclusive and accessible India. To write this column, in late 2019, we invited Shruti Pushkarna, 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.


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