Shruti Pushkarna: Much like charity, inclusion begins at home

01 Dec,2022

By Shruti Pushkarna


Shruti PushkarnaThe battle for inclusion is an ongoing one. Different groups go through varied struggles at different points in time, to be accepted by the majority. Gender, race, colour, disability, religion, caste and sexual orientation, have been the basis of discrimination, keeping the so-called ‘abnormal’ outside of the larger group.


Underlying beneath the idea of exclusion is a total absence of empathy. It’s the inability to realise the inherent privilege with which we overlook or dismiss the existence of another. It’s often assumed that the inability to understand and address the issues facing persons with disabilities comes from a lack of awareness or ignorance.


Take a day-in-the-life scenario…


Did you know that persons with disabilities or those with limited mobility, have to consider the following before heading out of their homes?


They have to think of the mode of transport and how they will transfer from the wheelchair to the vehicle seat. The number of stops and transfers also have to be accounted for, to consider the rate of exhaustion in the entire process. Access to a bathroom is usually unpredictable in unknown territory. We hope to find clean facilities, while they think of the possibility of using a bathroom at all, given the narrow openings, unsuitable height of the toilet seat, et cetera. Foregoing the desire to drink in order to keep the water intake to a minimum seems the only option. Obviously, they have to check on the availability of ramp and elevator, and if they are operational.


Speaking of functionality, in many residential complexes where maintenance of elevators is dependent on the funds generated by inhabitants, people don’t want to pay for fixes and replacements, if they can take the stairs. This not only displays apathy for someone who cannot physically climb up and down but sheer shortsightedness of an event that can render them temporarily dependent.


But if 15 per cent of the world’s population living with some form of disability remains invisible or marginalised, how do we develop our knowledge of people’s diverse needs? Is it our (non-disabled) responsibility to educate ourselves in order to include them or does the onus of being included lie with the voiceless and oppressed?


My own limited understanding of living life with disability comes from the acquaintances I have made in the last few years while working towards empowerment of the disabled population. But do all of us have enough opportunities where disabled and nondisabled worlds intersect and interactions flow freely?


Rights-based advocacy groups rely on awareness campaigns and initiatives to sensitise people in a controlled, simulated manner. Consciously training to accept people as they are, communicate in non-threatening ways and use person-first language.


Such drives and discourses are amplified around December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities. But we need repeated iterations through the year to bridge the humungous gap that separates groups of people on account of misconceived notions of ability.


Media portrayals also prove helpful in widening the scope of imagination. In the last couple of years, OTT platforms have featured a variety of fictional content that tackles disability and inclusion from a humanistic as well as thematic approach.


Here are a few recommendations to get you started on inclusive content,


1. Sex Education (Netflix):A British comedy drama featuring a teenage boy with a sex therapist mother who teams with a classmate to set up an underground sex therapy clinic in high school.
2. Only Murders in the Building (Disney+ Hotstar): A murder mystery comedy starring Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short. James Caverly who identifies as Deaf also plays the character of a deaf boy, Theo Dimas.
3. Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Netflix):A South Korean legal drama in which 27-year-old Woo Young Woo who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, plays the central character. She has an impressive memory but struggles with everyday interactions.
4. Years and Years (HBO):A science fiction drama that revolves around the day-to-day lives of Lyons family. Ruth Madeley, a disabled British actress plays the role of Rosie Lyon, a single mother born with spina bifida.
5. The Good Doctor (Netflix):A series about Shaun Murphy, a young surgical resident with autistic savant syndrome, who challenges his sceptical colleagues by displaying extraordinary skill to save lives.


While the natural instinct is to judge and exclude, can we challenge ourselves to unlearn and rewire, to accept even before we can embrace?


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