‘Obviously, because of my disability I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have travelled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity’. — These are the words of Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, referring to his impediments due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Though his contributions are several he is the one who through his writings on cosmos and time made millions appreciate physics. Hawking has achieved all this in spite of his so-called disability and has proved that anything is possible if we make the effort.
He is not the only one. There are many who have overcome their oddities and climbed to the top. We do not need to search for them. They are with us. They may be your classmate, your friends’ child, or even a member of your family. But most of the time we don’t notice them or shy away from them. But there are people who live with them, help them get over their problems. My friend G P Jayakumar is one such person. His son Siddharth suffers from cerebral palsy. An attack of jaundice when he was a baby altered his mind-body coordination and speech clarity. He grew up hindered, he had difficulty in writing and his reaction to the environment was slow. But his parents, through love and affection, ensured that he grew with confidence and self-reliance. As a result, Siddharth never let his physical ailments hamper his development. Though schooling was an ordeal, with a lot of support from his teachers, parents and friends he emerged a successful student. He scored 90 per cent in his school finals and 74 per cent in BCom from a college in Chennai. Now he is working in a major banking firm, bringing recognition and fame to himself and his parents. The world has also recognised his achievements and bestowed him with several awards and accolades like Npedp-Shell-Helen Keller Award and the Ascendas Excellence Award in Academics.
Former President A P J Abdul Kalam made a mention of him in his inaugural speech at the First International and the Ninth Annual Conference of the Indian Academy of Cerebral Palsy.
Talking about Siddharth he said, ‘He is the first student with cerebral palsy to be employed outside Vidya Sagar. He loves mathematics. He has a mission to uplift the life of special people with multiple disabilities. What a beautiful thought! The story of Siddharth clearly brings out the special strengths in certain people with disabilities. Our social system and educational institutions must recognise the strengths of the individual and provide the opportunity for these flowers to blossom. It is the duty of society (which you and I are part of) to consider all as equals, or at least stop differentiating among them.
If we question how we perceive and treat persons who are differently abled, I assume it will be revealing. We should look at things from their perspective. If we were forced to experience such different treatment, discredit, separation, and denial, what kind of impact would it have on our mind and psyche? I am sure such self deliberation will give us a better understanding of them and their situation, and we will treat them with respect and dignity.
‘Know me for my abilities, not my disability. I don’t have a dis-ability, I have a different ability. Go ahead and label me, ‘cause labels are made for gifts. My disability has opened my eyes to see my true abilities. When everyone else says you can’t, determination says YES YOU CAN’.
These are words of Robert Michael Hensel, born with Spina bifida — a serious birth defect that occurs when the tissue surrounding the developing spinal cord of a fetus doesn’t close properly. He is the Guinness World Record holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair, covering a total distance of 6,178 miles.
He is yet another example of people who do not bother about their disabilities because they believe in their abilities. Let us look at abilities rather than disabilities.