Inner Metering To Disability

Posted by Sheetal Vaidya on Mar 14, 2019
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We are fine until we have someone close who has it…cancer?diabetes?HIV? no something that’s far more stigmatic. Disability. We think oh that means the blind or the deaf and dumb or people with no hands or legs or both or mentally challenged!! Our understanding ends here till we find out law has categorized 21 types of disabilities. That includes all that we know plus many more. Now another statistical fact is every 1 in 15 people is a person with disability. These statistical facts though relevant are not so important as is our acceptance, understanding and compassion towards it. We all have a sympathetic approach when we are eye to eye with the blind. But when one engages in deep looking within, we find out how uncomfortable we become in mind and body when we are with or around anyone with disability. Our swift action to help/support shows that discomfort. We don’t want to “be” with them, we want to quickly “do” something get our brownies for an act of kindness and move on as fast as possible. Act of kindness does help, but, it doesn’t sometimes if its not coming from space of genuine understanding.

The realization dawned, when I was on my first day at job in an NGO where we did skilling and placement of youth with disability. I entered a class of 69 final year graduation students who were all speech and hearing impaired (Lesson 1: They are not deaf and dumb or deaf n mute ..pl. mind language here!) We had done a grand welcome for all of them by putting heart pins before they stepped into the class. I had to take a session on “creating a first impression”. It was quite an ironical state as I had not ever engaged with SHI before and didn’t know how I will do the session and will I even create a first impression with them! As the language for communication is sign language (Lesson 2: English, French, Spanish, German are great CV builders and so is Sign language . Recommend in school curriculum others can learn as hobby). So here I am standing in the class, unsure, and the class staring at me, waiting for me to “say something”. I started writing on the board to start with. In less than 5 minutes I see a young boy next to me asking me to speak, he wrote, he can lip read so he will read me talking and convert it to sign language for the class (Lesson 3: If you are with SHI’s look directly at them, speak slowly with well-articulated lip and facial expressions). The class went on smoothly, I learnt my lessons and felt “included” among their group. It took them less than 5 minutes to include me in the class and took me more than a month to learn some basic sign language.

My job was to work towards “inclusion in the mainstream”! It’s become an "in thing" to talk about “inclusion”, work towards it in multiple ways education, health, skilling, placement and many more agenda driven items. But none have among this being friends with them, understanding them, their dreams, visions, life, upbringing….and so on. It is always torn between us vs. them, getting impact through the work in disability sector, changing laws, make more disability friendly spaces etc. These efforts help but they sometimes creates more divide (Lesson 4: To bring a change, first built trust in the hearts). ‘Inclusion’ will come effortlessly if we genuinely look at our mental impairment which leads to this division in thought, action and speech.This group-ism that we create wherever we go. (Lesson 5: Look within and ask- Is this action leading to inner growth or to fulfill achievement desire).

Inclusion to me unfolded as a vast word, it holds an invitation to embrace the world and all beings in totality. Our complete openness to accept every being as they are, removing our myopic lens which looks for that which is “broken” so “I” can fix it. All the physical efforts that one endeavor to viz. learning sign language, creating accessible spaces for physically, visually or mentally challenged should be means to open up inner doors to the equal opportunity for all (Lesson 6: Re-look at the core values of your offering ). Being mindful of how one feels, behaves or includes all in and around one’s small community circle will be a determining factor of whether “inclusion” will truly happen. To ask questions like “can we have special kids in all schools, rather than build “special” schools for them?” In our old school, we had all kids, there was no “specialty” and yet education was imparted seamlessly to all and equally, little did we know as kids that the teacher gave more attention and care to those few who were challenged in any way (Lesson 7: De-code your role in the society). The society structure was naturally “inclusive” and every member played their role well. Children played with all, teacher taught everyone, everyone went to same college/university and community was alive, together and one. Can we build that again? Maybe then, “inclusion” has a chance to survive, in thriving Oneness.

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