StudentsDisability is Difference not Dependence – Sumbal Sarwar

October 18, 2020by @hunerkada0
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What is disability? A question that I ask frequently from my audience when speaking about disability sensitization. As it turns out, many have never given it much thought. We might learn from a dictionary that not being able to do certain things or inability to perform some functions is disability.   But living the very word! Is...

What is disability? A question that I ask frequently from my audience when speaking about disability sensitization. As it turns out, many have never given it much thought. We might learn from a dictionary that not being able to do certain things or inability to perform some functions is disability.   But living the very word! Is the real meaning of it and true enough, it cannot be described by a mere verbal definition because it is an experience which requires more than words to describe.

Based on prevailing stereo-types or social norms, we as a society often have our views and ideas buildup about certain concepts and people. And so, how do we think about disability or persons with disabilities? What do we think when we look at someone in a wheelchair or someone with a whitecane? Maybe, pity for the poor fellow. Maybe, gratification and relief that its not me.  Or do we even think at all?

For me, it is not the physical limitation of not being able to see or hear or walk that is a disability. But the constraints which are imposed by the social environment such as lack of ramps, or lack of access to public transport or education or work opportunities that causes disability.

Being a visually impaired person, I have often met with two extremes of attitude regarding disability in our society. First, there is the attitude of extreme sympathy, pity and awe. People who have such an attitude would admire challenged persons even for the very menial tasks. For example, making a big deal of a blind person recognizing someone by voice and what follows is undue, unnecessary glorification. This kills the essence of equality. Such an attitude also results into over protectiveness and may bar a person’s chances from realizing ones potentials to face challenges. Such an attitude despite of all the kindness may result into a tendency of utter dependence.

And the second extreme is the attitude of utter ignorance toward a person with disability and this may be due to different reasons such as, fear of disability, uneasiness, lack of awareness and believing that having a disabled friend or family member may turn into a liability.

Such a negative attitude is caused due to prolonged seclusion of people with disabilities from the mainstream society because, more than often, they are kept in separate education institutions. Or sometimes, hidden away by their families because maybe they are ashamed or afraid to own them because some would believe that having a disabled child is a punishment of sins from divinity.

Both these extremes lead to social stigma and turn a physical disability into a real one. We all in our lives love normality. We want to be “normal” and what disability really is? A deviation from that so dearly loved regularity of living. Seeing with eyes is normal for you. But seeing with my ears is normal for me. Walking on your legs might be normal for many. But moving in a wheelchair or with crutches is fine for others. Once, a woman who was blind said” what I really want from the world is, the opportunity to be equal, but the right to be different.”

What we really need to do to over-come this stigma, is to become open-minded. To respect the need of being different but equal.  People with challenges are as human as anyone else. They have emotions, feelings, potentials and talents just like the rest of the people. They deserve equal opportunities of growing and becoming productive members of society. And what is really needed is neither unnecessary glorification nor extraordinary pity. But empathy!!! Because empathy will make us sensitive. Empathy will teach us to make room for those who are different. Empathy will bring balance between the two extremes of attitude toward disability.

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