Disabled Lives Matter: Time to take a Cue from America

By Shruti Pushkarna

Millions of people had their eyes set on January 20, 2021. The inauguration ceremony of the 46th President of United States of America being seen as a beacon of hope, to restore faith in democracy. Something the outgoing President had ridiculed in myriad ways, throughout his four years of governance (read disruption).

 

The feeling of optimism suffused across the world, not just experienced by US residents but all those who witnessed a self-obsessed supremacist make moves (read blunders) that annihilated the very principles of equality, justice, harmony, even humanity.

 

I, too, was following the election results closely. As someone who strongly advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities, I was elated at the mention of disability in Joe Biden’s victory speech on November 7. Biden is only the second US President apart from Barack Obama to acknowledge disability in his address. He said: “We must make the promise of the country real for everybody, no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.” Read more

Time to Rejig the Content Mix?

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

The only change we witnessed on January 1 was calendrical. 2020 was a washout, with bad news hitting us consistently from every part of the globe. The ghastly spread of coronavirus wasn’t the only peril we dealt with. Don’t forget the floods, cyclones, frequent earthquakes, economic slowdown following the lockdown, rising unemployment and brutal pay cuts. The only hope in sight was the promise of a vaccine roll-out in 2021. Just as we were getting ready to usher in a world capable with fighting the virus, the World Health Organisation announced that we were unlikely to develop herd immunity in this new year.

 

On the political front too, countries are busy competing for attention. Apart from the usual blows and soap opera antics, the Narendra Modi government has been unable to placate or negotiate with the protesting farmers. And across the Atlantic, United States made history as the outgoing President Donald Trump incited supporters to storm into the Capitol and ransack offices, leading to the death of a police officer. Read more

Waking up to a disabled-friendly media in 2021

By Shruti Pushkarna

New Year is all about hope. We go to bed on December 31, hoping that there will be something miraculously different about January 1. There is almost a Cinderella feel to it. For a short period, most of us believe that we will wake up to a changed, better scenario. I’ve decided to indulge myself too, and make this last piece of the year, all about what I want to see in 2021.

But a little disclaimer before I pull out my euphoric list that promises to make inclusion somewhat of a reality starting New Year’s day. This piece is written in a lighter vein, any noticeable sarcasm is incidental. 

Accessible news telecast for all

All Indian language news channels launch a special broadcast service accessible to persons with different types of disabilities. People with hearing, speech or vision impairment as well as those with learning or intellectual disability won’t need to seek help from the able-bodied to catch the latest news. Read more

World Disability Day: What will it take to change the status quo?

By Shruti Pushkarna

As I write this piece, I’m experiencing a mixed set of emotions. I’m thrilled because I have managed to nearly complete a year of this column on ‘Media and Disability’. At the same time I’m sort of disillusioned, thinking if this fortnightly exercise has made any real difference for persons with disabilities. I’m saddened because the media or the society doesn’t much care about vulnerable groups and their respective challenges. But more than anything I’m angry.

Change is not easy to come. I’m aware. But I’m angry at how little has changed in the past several years in this age of information boom and 24X7 news. Also despite the new empowering laws and policies that gave us hope of better times to come. Read more

A Powerful Vision Poorly Executed!

By George Abraham, CEO Score Foundation

Digital India, Skill India, Accessible India – all campaigns that promised transformation, inclusion and progress. These revolutionary ideas caught the imagination of the nation and raised expectations all around. This was the vision with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his first tenure as leader of this vast nation.

 
These campaigns also triggered hope and anticipation amongst blind and visually impaired citizens. The push towards Digital India called for Digital Governance, Digital Infrastructure and Digital Literacy. All this sounded like music to a disability activist like me. It promised to be a gamechanger for the blind and visually impaired population of the country. Technology such as screen-reading software, artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine language could now seamlessly connect the blind and visually impaired people with this new emerging Digital India. Read more

Does Empathy Stem from a Lived Experience Alone?

By Shruti Pushkarna

I almost didn’t write this piece. In fact my mind was totally blank. No ideas. Zilch. Then I wondered to myself, this column is all about voicing issues, it’s not like there’s a dearth of those. The challenge is not the lack of ideas or issues, but my brain’s selfish need to focus on personal problems.

 

At this point I’m overwhelmed with taking care of my Covid-positive parents. I maybe convinced that there are no bigger problems in the world. But the truth is no one cares. No one outside of my tiny family bubble cares at all. Everyone is consumed with their own life hassles. Read more

Why Dissociate Dignity from Disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

There comes a point in life when everyone needs a bit of help. As I write this piece, I am writhing in pain. On any given day, I score myself quite high on the strength quotient when it comes to overcoming challenges, even physical discomfort. But not today. I sought professional help, acknowledging my inability to deal with the situation.

People seek support from friends, family and even total strangers at times. We all need assistance, it could be physical, emotional or financial. But despite the universal need, seeking help is often likened to a weakness. It puts the person giving help on a pedestal, patronising the one receiving it. Read more

Looking beyond the impairment

Twenty-six-year-old Kush Verma has many aspirations. After an oxygen overdose at birth left him blind, his wealthy parents from Ahmedabad, Gujarat tried everything in their reach but didn’t succeed in restoring his vision. With no awareness on raising a blind child, they confined Kush to home till he turned ten.

On a family friend’s suggestion, he was enrolled into a blind school. At school, Kush’s desire to learn and progress was evident in the pace at which he picked up braille and mobility skills. He went on to complete his Class 12 examinations. During this time, he developed a keen interest in learning computers and hence expressed his desire to pursue his Bachelor’s in Computer Applications from a renowned institution outside his state. His parents feared leaving their blind son alone in an unknown place. Kush, therefore, had to persist with a regular BA course in his city.

When Kush contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk, his inclination towards establishing a career in technology still ran strong. Equipped to deal with parents who often focus on the impairment over the potential of their child, Eyeway counselor thought it best to first counsel the parents by citing accounts of other successful blind people. Kush’s parents were guided to shift their focus on their son’s capabilities as an individual. Further, we facilitated his enrolment in the Technical Training Institute in Pune for a year- long Accessibility testing course which requires him to attend classes remotely for nine months and physical training in the campus for the last three months.

Eyeway is hopeful that Kush’s progress in the course will have a positive impact and free his parents of all apprehensions.

Ignorance on responding to blindness or raising children with vision impairment permeates across socio-economic status of families. Like Kush, there are numerous others who need opportunities to prove their ability to accomplish despite the disability.