Shruti Pushkarna: Hear, Hear! Inclusion Advocates

29 Dec,2022

By Shruti Pushkarna


Shruti PushkarnaThree days until we pull the curtains down on 2022. The atmosphere is rife with joyful celebrations, with lurking fear of a new Covid variant, inflation and taxation woes and of course, hope for better twelve months.


Although I’m not agog about a date change magically altering the course of our lives, I have my yearnings. I don’t indulge in resolutions because those are just clichés avowed and disowned annually. I am more of a bucket list person, who likes to either tick things off or cross them out altogether. And inclusion for all is the highlight of my Wishlist for 2023. Emphasis on ‘all’.


Let’s rewind a bit. Some years ago, I shifted gears to reroute my career path, transitioning from the media to the development sector. I learned to navigate through a new world, new subject, new people and new ways. However, one thing remained consistent. A personal and professional ambition of challenging and changing the status quo.


The hustling-bustling newsroom chatter gave way to ardent articulations of inclusion advocates. Learning from and working closely with persons with disabilities, I became aligned to a collective call for accepting differences and acknowledging abilities.


Today, my work entails voicing the stories, the needs and the dreams of 26.8 million disabled people who stand separated by physical and attitudinal barriers.


I often find myself digging deeper into the history and psychology of ‘othering’, revisiting my literature and film theory classes, where I studied multitudinous accounts of discrimination on the basis of gender, colour, caste, sexual orientation and ethnicity. The discourse on disability seems missing. And different marginalized groups are waging parallel battles against exclusion.


I have also realised that the agenda to include is controlled by diverse individuals and their distinct schools of thought. In drumming up support to integrate one community, are we erroneously creating new subsections? I’m beginning to wonder whether inclusion for one is possible without excluding another.


Let me simplify this a bit. I am a woman, a person with low vision, a caregiver and a professional who advocates for equal rights of persons with disabilities. The definition of inclusion varies with the different aspects of my existence. Similarly, the inclusion needs of a gay blind woman cannot be seen through the lens of disability, gender or sexuality alone. One can draw up many permutations and combinations like that.


There are 21 types of disabilities identified in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 but I am yet to find a forum where the needs of all different types of disabilities are looked at equally. What’s worse is that various disability groups don’t understand or empathize with the access needs of one another.


The challenge of inclusion is complicated by the intersectionality of people and issues.


A universal approach to problem solving addresses the needs of a wider collective. Take the example of technological innovations built into a smartphone, a product designed for diverse set of users. A senior citizen uses the magnifying tool to read easily. A person with blindness sends out emails and messages using Speech to Text feature. A working mother reads (listens to) books on her drive home on the Audible app. Similarly, modern homes equipped with smart appliances simplify and enable access for people in varied ways, disabled and non-disabled alike.


Is it time to align streams of thought and reduce the fissures within factions to strengthen the business case for inclusion? Do we need to redefine the parameters of inclusion based on intersectionality, irrespective of tags like disability, gender, colour et cetera?


I wonder what that inclusive Wishlist will look like in 2023 and the years to come.


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