A sensitised and friendly environment is needed to make the disabled, part of mainstream society

Aamir Khan has done it again.  Earlier, it was through his film, Taare Zameen Par, that he addressed the issue of an invisible disability, Dyslexia, that makes smart and intelligent individuals underperform academically and live a life of frustration and shattered dreams.  And now, on his programme Satyamev Jayate, he brought into sharp focus the societal attitude towards people with disability.  He made an attempt to sensitise the general population of our country on the issues of the physically handicapped persons.  This is an issue that has been overlooked both by the policy makers and society.

 Having worked with the disabled, I have observed that people speak about a disability in front of him, often not addressing him.  They treat him as if he is a non-thinking person who does not understand.  I have heard well educated and the so called enlightened persons make comments like “Why do these students need this exam?”  “Why do they to come out to watch a film?”  “Do they understand?”  “They are better off at home.” The distress and trauma caused by such comments is unimaginable.  Such an attitude makes them feel that their mind is also dysfunctional like their bodies.  They begin to doubt themselves and their abilities.  They live in isolation, with grief and suffering as their constant companions!

What hurts persons with disability the most is that they cannot be a part of the normal mainstream life.  Those physical barriers, the effort of going up those endless stairs, those piercing questioning eyes of the passersby, make life unbearable.  Not many can understand the pain of coping in a normal world – the agony of trying constantly to be understood, the desire to be perceived normal, the embarrassment of being excluded makes one realise that “you will be disabled all your life.” 

We, the able bodied people need to realise that despite disability, they have a spirit and a mind of their own, though due to lack of exposure and perhaps a lack of movement, the mind is uncertain or hazy.  We need to understand that theirs is a normal mind trapped in a dysfunctional body.  Their ambitions, aspirations, thinking and desires are just the same as ours.

 Another area of concern is their sexuality and sexual needs. The society assumes that disabled people should not have sexual urges, should not even think about sex. It is strange that society on one hand thinks that disabled people should lead normal lives, and on the other becomes judgmental on the issue of dealing with intimate relationships!

People with disabilities are not children.  They too have adult thoughts, desires, feelings, passions and expectations like any other non-disabled person.  But most of the time these desires remain unquenched because society looks upon them as asexual beings. People are not willing to look past the disabled body.  They look at their imperfect bodies and believe some of the religious beliefs which explain that they are the way they are, due to retribution for past sins committed!

The disabled people are looked down upon as burden on society.  This mind-set has to change.  We need to realise that if a disabled person cannot have access to educational institutions, offices, libraries, restaurants  or recreational places, it is not because he cannot walk but because of the faulty design of the environment or the faulty attitude of the society.  Provide him with a disability-friendly environment and see how he acquires stability with excellent management.