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.

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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

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