Some years ago, I was walking with my wife in the town when a passerby approached us and asked my wife “Is he blind?” My wife just smiled and said “Yes!”. Then he began to ask her the entire history of how I lost my sight and what I am currently doing, and I was standing there listening to the conversation as though I was in the distance. He never talked to me directly. I felt quite awkward because he was talking about me just in front of me and I was there standing like a lifeless statue.
Similarly, I was once in a restaurant with my friends and a waitress came up to us to take our orders. Some of us asked for coffee and the rest asked for tea. While serving, the waitress asked my friend “What did he order? Does he want sugar?” I was just wondering whom she was talking about when my friend turned towards me and asked me if I wanted sugar in my coffee. At the moment, I just thought why couldn’t she talk to me directly. I could have given the answer myself. Even the deaf and dumb can speak for themselves through sign-language.
Many a time, people have asked my wife or friends if I needed anything, instead of directly asking me. I know I have a disability but that does not mean I don’t have the ability to speak for myself. When you talk about persons with disabilities in the third person while in their presence, you are consciously or unconsciously sidelining them because you are not directly engaging them in your conversation. It is important they are listened to, talked to and engaged like anybody else so that they get the opportunity and confidence to come out of their homes and interact with the public. If you continue to look at them as a third person while they are physically present with you, you are shutting their doors to freedom and independence forever.
I don’t know why some people hesitate to interact directly with persons with disabilities whenever they see them. While walking alone on the streets, I have overheard people telling their friends “Why don’t you help him?” Instead of talking about me in third person, I love people directly coming up to me and talking to me directly rather than deploying somebody else in between. Although we live in two different worlds, our disability should not be treated as a barrier between us. We may look different but it does not mean that we lack the ability to decide and speak for ourselves. My wife has to often speak for me during social gatherings and other special events since people still choose to talk to me through her. It may not be a conscious behavior but this kind of interaction sometimes makes us feel aloof from the rest of the world. As we now move forward in time, it’s important that we start reflecting on how we can sensitively interact with people around us. Let us all work together towards breaking those barriers and create an inclusive society where all of us can live together in harmony, enjoying equal rights and respect regardless of our disability or socio-economic status.
(The writer blogs at amrithdiary.wordpress.com)