Can the historic Paralympic medal tally alter our perception of disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Before I delve into this piece, I’d like to congratulate Team MxM on their tenth anniversary. Feels like it was eons ago, when I joined the team in August 2011. As my Editor handed me varied assignments, I saw myself mature and learn. Even today, I credit a great deal to MxM for helping me refine my writing style and develop a deeper understanding of issues. I continue my association with the team, with this fortnightly column on Media and Disability, with the belief that awareness can help create an empathetic society.

 

As a young girl, 10 or 12 years of age, I was quite interested in pursuing a sport. Badminton, specifically. But it wasn’t easy to nurture my passion.

 

At school, teachers only seemed to care about the academic scorecard of every student. If you so much asked to be excused for a sporting event, you were deemed lazy and unintelligent. There was no talk around the importance of sports in shaping one’s personality, team spirit and confidence. Read more

Disability Inclusion: How far are we from a Sugamya and Saksham Bharat?

By Shruti Pushkarna

In his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was applauded for path-breaking campaigns like Swachh Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana, Sugamya Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana and so on. The promise of ‘inclusion’ for larger sections of the Indian population gave the country hope for a better tomorrow, or ‘Acchhe Din’.

 

Having been sidelined and neglected for decades, the disabled community felt vindicated with the announcement of the Accessible India movement in 2015. Finally, the lack of ‘access’ was acknowledged at a national level. In a move to dignify their existence, PM Modi also coined a new term, ‘divyangjan’ or divine being replacing the demeaning usage of ‘viklang’ or handicapped. Read more

‘Coupling’ with Covid: One hell of a roller coaster ride

By Shruti Pushkarna

Shruti PushkarnaAs promised, here is a personal account of my three months’ absence, when I couldn’t put pen to paper and furnish my otherwise extremely regular fortnightly column. If you are wondering what’s this got to do with the theme of disability, the answer is probably nothing. Except maybe it articulates a similar sense of helplessness and frustration, experienced by the disabled folk on varied levels 24×7. A first for me, it was truly novel and intense.

The start of a new financial year, April 2021 saw a sudden explosion of Covid cases in the country. Delhi and NCR were badly hit. As I took my marital vows (in a close family setting), Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a curfew with immediate effect. En route to my new abode, we were stopped and questioned by cops for disregarding the latest notification. Caught off-guard, we requested the trail of cars be allowed to pass the barricade.

 

Oblivious to the alarming crisis building outside, we chuckled and chatted, celebrating our conjugal beginnings. But in two days, things changed drastically. One after the other, the whole family tested positive for Covid-19. With each phone call, the tally went up, everyone reporting cases from their circle of family and friends. Read more

Who really cares about Disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

Over the last year-and-a-half, through this column, I have highlighted the sheer neglect and absence of empathy towards persons with disabilities. It is apparent in our policies, provisions, their implementation, legal framework, news coverage and above all in our general lingo. We don’t care about the disabled. As harsh as it may sound, it’s true.

 

Disability seems to be the last on any agenda, that is, if it pictures at all. It took us a while to acknowledge equal rights of women, homosexuals, transgender and so on. One wonders how many years to go before we can dignify the existence of the country’s disabled citizens. This when more than one billion people in the world are living with some form of disability. Read more

One year of the lockdown: Do we consider the impact of our choices on others?

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Shruti PushkarnaA little over a year ago, the novel coronavirus unleased a global pandemic. In March 2020, the country entered a lockdown. The term seemed alien to most people who’d never been forced to stay indoors, barring those who had witnessed temporary impositions during the Emergency or the wars with the neighbouring countries. Of course not counting persons with disabilities, chronic illnesses or the elderly who remain confined for varied reasons (irrespective of the state-enforced measures).

 

Not only lockdown, many new phrases were introduced into our daily lingo. Remote work, virtual meetings, new normal, social distancing (even though it was physical distancing, I wonder why we called it that), Zoom classes, online hangouts. And let’s not forget the trending obsessions of the lockdown period. Social media posts exhibiting culinary art, workout regimes, TikTok memes, YouTube tutorials on everything under the sun, nature photography (probably the first time people had time to pause and process the beauty around them), bird spotting et cetera.

Read more

Driving the Dialogue on Diversity

By Shruti Pushkarna

Four women who are breaking barriers in the disability space: Richa Bansal, Shalini Khanna, Shanti Raghavan and Shilpi Kapoor

L to R: Richa Bansal, Shalini Khanna, Shanti Raghavan and Shilpi Kapoor

Shruti PushkarnaWhether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Yoga Day, World Braille Day or International Women’s Day, I don’t believe in tokenism. A cause or community needs attention, acceptance and accolades round the year. One day can never be enough. But maybe an annual observance has a sense of association and awareness that can permeate through the societal mindset.

 

Earlier this week, when the world was celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, I decided to speak to four powerful agents of change. Each of these women, armed with their passion, commitment and instinctive leadership, are transforming the way we look at disability and inclusion.

 

Richa Bansal, Founder and Managing Director of Saarathee CRM Private Limited, is a social evangelist on a path to influencing an inclusive corporate culture, by being the driver of an equal opportunity workplace.

 

Shalini Khanna is Country Head at discovering hands gUG (haftungsbeschänkt), Director of NAB India Centre for Blind Women and Disabilities Studies, and a rehabilitation specialist with a corporate background in market research. Read more

Why you shouldn’t call anyone blind or deaf? So what if it’s a pedestrian who jumps in front of your car…

By Shruti Pushkarna

Shruti PushkarnaAs a little girl, I enjoyed going to book fairs and fetes with my father. Apart from the daddy-daughter time, I looked forward to buying new toys, books and other items of interest. Here’s a picture of a painted rock I picked out on one such outing. The text on the rock reads: “Daggers and spears are not as sharp as tongues.”

 

A picture of a painted rock I picked. The text on the rock reads: Daggers and spears are not as sharp as tongues.

I think my father was a bit intrigued at the choice of a four-year-old, wondering if I really understood what the quote meant. Words can either hurt or heal, was a lesson I grew up with. I was repeatedly told that once uttered, you can never take back your words. So I need to be cautious of what and how I communicate.

 

Language is a big part of our cultural identity, in how it shapes us. Terminology, over a period of time, seeps so deep into the fabric of society that certain words become synonymous with ideas, people, situations and communities. We often don’t even realise how the choice of words stems from an almost subconscious state of mind. Read more

Don’t treat disabled as ‘becharas’

By Shruti Pushkarna

Shruti PushkarnaGrowing up in Delhi, I never really encountered a child with a disability in my locality or school. The only exposure I had to someone with an impairment was via fictional characters in films and television series. One of them was Dhritrashtra from the Mahabharat. In him I saw a mix of helplessness, greed, envy and frustration. I didn’t see him capable of altering the storyline or making big decisions despite being the ruler of Hastinapur, the disputed kingdom. As I grew older, I encountered disabled people begging on the streets, blind singers in buses and trains accepting small change in return. I assumed all disabled people were poor. My view slowly evolved as I saw and read about achievers who overcame their disability through good education and hard work. But the overall picture was dominated by the prevalent stereotype of dependency, barring a few heroic accounts.

After working in the disability sector, I realised how ill-conceived and limited those notions were. There are several factors responsible for the near invisibility of persons with disabilities from the mainstream. While their absence is a reason for our inability to conceive their reality, the portrayal of disability in the media hasn’t helped much. By media, I mean radio, print, TV, advertising and films.

I spoke to a few people employed in different capacities, living with a certain type of disability, to share their views on the subject. Here’s what they thought of the representation of disability in the media and the changes they would like to see. Read more

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