Don’t call us disabled, we are just differently abled!

The first thought that comes to mind when thinking of someone who is disabled is often of
Pity? Sympathy? Or looking at them and then being thankful to God that we are not in their shoes and deciding to stop cribbing about the petty things in life? Or a sense of uneasiness because of not knowing how to react or interact with the person without hurting their feelings? Most of us would experience one or more of these emotions. I was once told by a college friend that we should not refer to them as disabled but differently abled or physically/mentally challenged, for by calling them “disabled we are implying that they are not able bodied, they lack something, something is impaired. In a way we are placing them one notch lower than others, than what we consider normal. I could decipher the meaning of what he said in the true sense only after a few years when I had the opportunity to interact with a few differently abled kids and this changed my perspective to a very great extent.
I would no longer call them disabled in fact they might face some physical or mental challenges but I noticed that there are certain areas where they have skills which are far superior than others and that further cemented my thoughts that they are indeed differently abled. Just like you and me, I write and dance as I love to do that and I think I manage do a pretty decent job but if you ask me to draw or play a sport, I completely suck at it. So am I not differently abled then? Endowed with and worked on some skills while I am a novice at others. So how fair are we sympathising with such people by calling them ” oh poor disabled boy why did God  do this to you?”
A chance  encounter with 5 kids as a part of a corporate initiative had a life changing impact on me. I forged a strong bond of friendship with them and it also gave me a new perspective on differently abled people. About 2 years back, to escape the daily drudgery of work I was looking for some refresher, some kind of club or group within the organisation where I could do something different then sit in front  of my computer and blink, and also get to network with new people. All you people working in corporates know how important  it is to ” build your network” . A friend introduced me to this pillar which works with differently abled people, helping them to get jobs, taking mock interviews, sponsoring their degree education and giving them an opportunity to intern at the company post which, if they do well in their exams and everything is satisfactory they can end up with a job at the company. Sounded exciting to me to be a part of this fabulous initiative and I jumped in. There were 5 kids who had just completed their 12th. The first time I spoke to each one of them on the phone inviting them to attend a session at our office and making arrangements for their travel etc, it just felt like speaking to any other 17 year old kid who was partly nervous party excited  speaking to this lady from the big company. I was nervous the first day I was to meet them in person , I did not want them to feel intimated. In fact I wanted to be conscious of not hurting their feelings in any way. My colleague told me ” just be normal Akshata” and that’s what I was.
After that we met on few more occasions, added each other on Facebook and would whatsapp each other , the one month they spent interning at the company was another time I got to meet them quite regularly .These 5 awesome people who took me down the memory lane- they reminded me about college lectures and spending time at the canteen, about exams and college fests. They are all physically challenged, one is visually challenged with his vision being very low, but he is a fabulous classical singer and dancer. The others are physically challenged but I noticed they possess some great talents which makes them outshine others. Two guys are football players, one of them being a good writer( I keep seeing his 2 liners on Facebook and I go gaga over them, how can a kid wrote such profound things!). He is a good buddy as well! Among the 2 girls one is the brilliant at studies girl who is the 90% scorer and she loves drawing. The other is that one special friend who is the one you want to go running to when you feel the world is such a bad place, she always has that warm smile and open arms. When  they came in for internship they all had their own inhabitations like any of us – such a big place, so many new people, will we make friends , will we be able  to cope up with the work? One month down the line I saw so much change. They were more confident and were already looking forward to the to next year of internship which would much be much longer and more intense. I took a break from the pillar when I went on maternity leave and did not join back given I wanted to balance my work life and get home on time to be with my baby, but I do have this occasional hi-hello from them. Like one of them who read my blogs and told me ” Ma’am you write very well don’t stop writing ever, I loved your ‘The Iron Lady’ blog post. And the other to whom  I sent my entry for ‘Every day is Mothers day’ to promote my post and he infact pointed a typo there and said- ‘but you write well’.
This ones  for you my friends Reo, Sherin, Vaishnavi, Sai and Antony for bringing in a new sunshine in my life, showing me that at times life may not dish you out what you desire but finding your path despite the challenges, learning to overcome your fears and live each day to the fullest. I know behind those smiles and childlike laughter is a lot of physical and mental agony that you have endured like falling sick often, getting admitted to the hospital sometimes unfortunately right before your exams when you have toiled so hard , those stares that people give you when you walk on the road or in the elevator and even if you look at them they would still  continue to stare shamelessly and some of them might have rebuked you as well. Your happy faces camouflage the challenge you face every other day, I do wish you all pass with flying cours( it’s a very important year for you as you are in the final year of degree). I pray to Almighty that all your dreams  are fulfilled and you remain humble and happy, just the way you are now. Stay blessed. Lots of love. From the girl  to whom you taught optimism and so much more.
3rd December is observed as the The International Day of Disabled People.

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