Let me start this article by introducing myself. My name is Sumit Mehta – A software and web developer by profession and working as an independent freelancer/consultant. I have two graduate degrees – One in “Indian Classical Music” (Vocal) (also known as ‘Visharad’) and the other in “Computer Science” (BCA). I also have a masters degree in “Computer Science” (MCA).
If you ignored the title of this article, you would say “Wow! that all looks really nice”. But unfortunately, the perception will suddenly change if I reveal that “I am a person living with a disability”. The shift will suddenly move to my disability from everything else. To some extent, I don’t have any objection with that but this fact should be conveyed in a manner that is more respectful for the person who is the subject rather than making him an object of sympathy. And that is the topic for this article. I, hereby, want to clarify that I don’t want to hurt anyone by this article. I want to put my views so that people from the media also see the other side and become more sensitive to the issue after reading this article.
Thanks to Indian Association of Muscular Dystrophy(IAMD) for inspiring me to write this article.
Words DO Matter
Recently I read in a Hindi newspaper that the court has passed an order that those who misbehave with people having a disability will be held and convicted. I really appreciate the order but the first word used in the title of that article to identify the people with disability was “Nishakt”. Isn’t it a misconduct itself to call all people with a disability as ‘Nishakt’?. We all know what does “Nishakt” mean. But in case if anyone doesn’t know then I would like to mention that it means a person with absolutely no power or ability. I would argue if this is a right word to denote a physical disability! If I was truly “Nishakt”, I would not have completed my studies like anyone else. I would not have been doing the job/office work as all others do. This itself is a violation to the court’s orders.
So, the basic idea is that media has to pick up the right words to express the right sentiments. This is a highly sensitive issue and one should be mature to write on this subject in a newspaper.
Some Real Life Examples
For a moment, I will shift the focus of this discussion to the society as it reflects the same issue many times. I would mention two examples here.
1. Award v/s Accessibility
A couple of years back, my friend was honoured for his exceptional academic achievements. He is also a person living with disability. This must have been pre-decided as it was a special award. Since the stage didn’t have a ramp, four people came forward to lift his wheelchair after his name was announced. On watching that video, I asked two questions to myself:
- When they knew that one of the persons was a wheelchair user, why didn’t they have a wooden ramp installed? Was it too big a deal? This induces me to ask the next question.
- If they didn’t really have the sensitivity of that level, what was the real meaning of awarding the person? There is a chance that I might have given back the award. For me, the award would have made better sense if the place was made accessible for me. Nobody prefers anyone else lifting their wheelchair for that matter, in this case, for receiving the award. Do you think I ask too much?
2. Name Of A Contest
The second example is about a contest with the name “Miss Wheelchair India“. Before I say something about it, I want to express through the bottom of my heart that I really like the concept and I even appreciate the endeavour. But I really wondered if they could find a better name for the contest. Why would you label someone for the object that they use for mobility? It’s not that I am ashamed or anyone is ashamed of being a wheelchair user but that’s not something that we should be identified with. For instance, will you hold a contest with the name “Mr. Blind India” for visually impaired people? Or will you have something like “Miss Fat India” for the people who are going through obesity. Don’t you think that sounds offended? This is also true with “Miss Wheelchair India”, at least in my views.
I made a humble suggestion to one of the people actively involved in its promotion on the social media. But to my surprise, I was given very blunt remarks on my own name. I am not sure if that person was the main organiser so can’t really name a particular person but he was surely a person in close association with the contest. It was disappointing though that I could not convey my thoughts to him. It was fine even if they were not willing to change the name as it’s their decision. I perfectly respect that but I was surely expecting a convincing and respectful reply. As I said, I have nothing to say about the idea but sometimes names matter a lot.
Suggestions To The Media
Coming back to the media – It’s not that I only have to criticise the things here. I do have some suggestions too as I believe we must come up with suggestions if we have to say anything against something or otherwise just keep quiet. In my personal experience, I have repeatedly faced such issues with Hindi print media. I have felt that English print media chooses the words more carefully but I may be wrong in respect to others’ experiences. Below are some key suggestions from my side.
Send Experienced Journalists...
Please understand that disability is a sensitive issue and whenever you send a reporter to cover such news, send someone with some years of experience in Journalism. Sending young boys and girls for such tasks is never going to work as most of the times, they fail to understand the depth of the issue.
Avoid Using Special Words For "People With Disability"
Don’t use any special words to describe the person. In my views, going with descriptive phrases may be an option to choose here. For instance, “Person with a disability” isn’t bad because it is a descriptive phrase and it doesn’t label anything. It may slightly be long but I think that’s the best phrase to avoid any ambiguities. Even in general also, we should try to avoid the words like “Handicapped”. I even don’t see any place for the words like “Specially abled” widely used amongst the people with disabilities themselves. It is for the simple fact that we can’t demand equality if we treat ourselves as special. We must understand that we may be different (like male and female are different but not unequal irrespective of the man-made Gender bias) but we are neither special or inferior.
Focus On Achievements AND Not On Disability
Please focus more on achievements and less on the physical disability. For example, it makes less sense to show me rolling over the bed and show how I manage things. But showing the more relevant parts related to what I have to say about it and what things I did makes more sense. In my recent news clip, I asked specifically not to cut the byte where I said that the state government as well as the central government should come up with strict laws to ensure accessibility across the city and the country. It was for the simple fact that I viewed the news clip as an opportunity to send a message to the authorities even if that wouldn’t have brought a change. Unfortunately, that part was edited and more time was spent on showing me rolling over my bed.
Is It Really Important!
If anyone believes that we have more important issues to discuss like accessibility, social and economic conditions of the people with disability then I perfectly agree with it. But the idea of this article was to discuss the kind of “Mental Discrimination” that we face around. Accessibility is definitely the issue with the top-most priority as lack of accessibility breaks our complete life cycle. It falls under the category of “Physical Discrimination” because it can be seen everywhere. But the discrimination that goes into the minds of the people isn’t easily traceable. And it does play a very important role too.
I hope this article doesn’t hurt anyone but if it does unintentionally, I deeply apologise for it from the bottom of my heart. Media has given me enough exposure and I thank them for the same but I think it’s time now that I should say that we should do it the right way and not just for the sake of doing it. Even if no media professional reads my article, I will still be happy that I did my part and will continue to do so in the future.
Thanks for sparing time for reading this article. Please share it further if you agree to the ideas expressed in it and share your comments in the comment section below..