Dear Disabled, You are Unsung Heroes, Create Your Own Niche!

Abid R. Baba, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of Abid R. Baba)

Eyes introduce emotions. From joy to discomfort, surprise to shock, anger to admiration, eyes speak volumes and are truly the windows to our soul. Reams (of adjectives) have been written about eyes. How cool! No? But ask me who lived with squint (for 24 years) and partial visual impairment. People mocked me, laughed at me, even teased me but I pursed my lips every time, listened to all of them patiently and cried in isolation, helplessly. Trendy teens avoided and mocked at me. I was belittled for a physical deformity. I still shiver to remember the terrible episodes that harmed me, emotionally and mentally.

A Race to Remember (Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons via Abid R. Baba)

Are you wondering why I started my story from eyes? Hold your horses! Lovers craft beautiful verses when they narrate the description of the eyes of the beloved. Since we all are stories, my story of eyes merits special mention for a host of reasons.

Scientifically speaking, normally two eyes point at the same direction but squint occurs when two eyes are misaligned. In medical terminology, I was suffering from strabismus- an incorrect imbalance of the eye muscles. The eye converges and diverges, preventing the eyes from working properly together.

Before I tell you what gave me oodles of motivation to reach here and do something in the disability space, I would like to tell how the innocent child inside me was crushed and how insensitivity towards the disabled alienate and push them out of the inclusive narrative.

I was 14 and writing my mid-term paper under scorching sun. The reflection on the white paper hurt my eyes and it was unbearable and resulted in constant blinking. I was trying to figure out if I can ask the supervisor to change my seat so that I can sit under the shade of a tree nearby. In a matter of seconds, I found myself being dragged by this ‘teacher’ in front of the posse of peers. I was kicked and abused. When I revealed the reason why I was feeling uneasy in the playground we were made to sit to write our exams, he apologized to me in front of everyone, hugged and cried with me. But the damage could not be undone.

This is just a tip of an iceberg. I have been called names and made fun of for not being able to focus on one direction. I don’t want to tell those depressing and gloomy stories now. Everything changed in 2017 when an AIIMS-returned ophthalmologist’s surgical procedure saved me from being called ‘squint eyed fellow’. Despite being studious and meritorious, only a handful realized my true potential. Nobody asked for where I can excel? Where I am best at? AIF did. What is not appropriate and we, collectively, need to unlearn is being sympathetic towards the disabled.

When you look at the person with disability with sympathetic attitude, it automatically puts you on a higher pedestal. This technique is called Psychological operation where a person thinks S/he is more abled than the differently abled person. This belittling creates an ‘invisible’ void. Ableism is a superiority complex. Disabled are an asset, not a liability. Disabled people have challenged the popular narratives and created their own path. Being empathetic towards the differently-abled people is the need of an hour.

Stephen Hawking’s’ contributions are phenomenal. He advised the disabled to concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. I live this advice now. How come Beethoven, a deaf, is one of the greatest music composer of our history?

This is an oft-repeated question. The answer is simple. Deaf people don’t listen to music but they feel it. They follow the beats and rhythm. Now, let’s ask ourselves, how many of our concerts are disabled-friendly? Why can’t we have music events with (a) Sign Language Interpreter/s? The truth is that our shared spaces defeat the very idea of inclusivity. In our events, meant for persons with disabilities, how many times do we double-check to see if the buildings are accessible? People with sensory overload need separate silent rooms. Do we provide these facilities? Generally, we don’t. Tall claims neither create an impact on the grassroots nor make any difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Action does.

We need arms and legs to swim. Correct? But Nicholas James Vujicic plays golf, surfs and swims without arms and legs. What do you infer from it? This is not all. John Milton, the blind bard, wrote masterpieces on nature. Really? But how? We need to experience nature through eyes to praise it. Milton proved otherwise.

Childhood Picture of Abid. (Photo courtesy of the author)

When you are in Rome, do what no one does. We need not to follow the crowd and should focus on creating our own path differently. How Milton treated nature is revered around the globe by the exceptional literature buffs. Hellen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts is celebrated now. This Harvard graduate, an author of 14 books, stands out as an inspiration for all of us. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the USA’s 32nd President was the first chief-executive of the world’s oldest democracy with a physical disability. He is the only American president to have served more than two terms. We all must look up to people like them who, braving odds, keep walking to strive toward the path of excellence.

In workspace, just like POSH and POCSO, why don’t we focus and invest on sensitivity trainings to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. I ask for suggestions, people come up with judgements without even knowing the full story. Sometimes, words can pierce so deep that it is impossible to heal/to dress those wounds caused by the words we hurl/toss towards the disabled.

The special day of December 03 is annually marked by Himalayan promises and lofty ideas about the empowerment of persons with disabilities but soon after, the balloon is deflated. Dear reader, just one takeaway from the International day of disabilities: Judges judge, philosophers don’t. Now, the choice is yours.

About the Author:
Abid R. Baba was associated with the Srinagar station of All India Radio from 2012-2018 with over 100 audio segments to his credit. His stories were shortlisted as Asia’s top three submissions in 2020, 2021 and 2022 by AIPS Sports Media Awards. In 2017, He worked as a Research Assistant with J&K’s first and only female Chief Minister in the public relations division of the Government Grievance Cell. In 2019, Abid worked as a research associate with the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). In 2020, he was a climate change Media Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and he was the first awardee of the Narender Revelli National Media Fellowship. He also went on to receive a grant from Columbia University, the US. Abid is passionate about and works at the intersection of inter-faith harmony, good politics, quality education, and digital rights. He has represented India in three International conferences on Peace, Conflict and Violence. Interested in community building, Abid has been volunteering with a US-based NGO called Kashmir Education Initiative since March 2020.



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