Using privilege to break barriers

A medical way of looking at disability was to categorise people as able, and others as physically, mentally, sensorily, cognitively or intellectually impaired or suffering from chronic disease.

Published: 05th December 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th December 2018 10:06 PM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI : As the 16-day Campaign Against Gender Based Violence is underway in several parts of the world, Chennai’s Disability Rights Alliance is running a 15-day campaign to point out how basic fundamental rights eludes people with disabilities. December 3 was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). If we spend as much time in India understanding disability as we do on conjuring cringeworthy terms, i.e Divyang to address PWDs, we’d be far ahead in finding solutions.

A medical way of looking at disability was to categorise people as able, and others as physically, mentally, sensorily, cognitively or intellectually impaired or suffering from chronic disease. A more nuanced way of looking at disability is in realising that there are barriers in keeping PWDs from participating fully in all aspects of life, and when these barriers need to be removed for access to be created and PWDs to be included. 

Rather than googling the above to find out more, looking up ‘Sexuality and Disability’ and ‘Skin Stories’ for finding the ways in which gender, sexuality and disability intersect and never asking a PWD if they miss not being able-bodied, is understanding privilege. This essentially means realising that as an able-bodied person, you may be able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, and independently, and there are those who cannot. Think about going to the beach and walking on the sand to the water. A PWD can’t.

This is not to reiterate the pity that we seem to hold in abundance, nor the want-to-do-something attitude that volunteers to carry people over the sand, or flights of stairs. It is to get us to think about the annual struggle to lay out a ramp that can give PWDs equal access to the beach - that there are scores of people in a coastal city that can’t go as they wish to the beach because there are barriers. In some ways, it is the barrier that defines the disability, and logically, if the barrier is removed and the same experience can be had by everybody, there is no disability.

PWDs are often left behind, discriminated against and sidelined. Not surprisingly, they are at much higher risk of experiencing violence, especially women with disabilities. The Centre of Disability Rights website says, “The best way to de-root ableism in our everyday lives, is to ensure that there’s always a seat at the table for those who are like you and those who are not, but also checking ourselves on how we treat people with disabilities once they are at the table. As simple as this sounds, de-rooting ableism is often as simple as treating disabled people like you would anyone else.”

To that I’ll add another post I saw on Facebook, “I notice so many places where (some) PWDs could participate passively, but not be leaders. Churches with accessible pews, but stairs to the pulpit; places for students to sit, but inaccessible podium. Accessibility means leadership, not just spectatorship!” What we need to do as colleagues, bosses, partners and friends is account for all that is disabling as disability, even pain, and do what it takes to remove barriers to increase access and participation. It’s not hard if we put our minds to it!

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