When I learned about the wonderful initiative and blog hop on disability, diversity and inclusion comprising 24 writers, I knew I had to be part of it. We as writers and bloggers have a responsibility to amplify this message so that it reaches as many people as possible. It’s a much-needed initiative, which brings into light the subject of people with disabilities, and how as a society, we can do so much more to make lives easier, and better.
History is replete with shameful incidents of abuse, isolation, and superstitions against people with disabilities, with horrific incidents of violence on the rise under tyrannical governments and establishments. There are 8 disability types of which some are visible, and some invisible.
- Spinal Cord (SCI)
- Head Injuries (TBI)
I think somewhere we are all as much disabled as we are normal. A person who’s battling a chronic health condition, or mental health issues, suffers silently with an invisible disability. At some point of time, we need to talk about them to know how similar we are, but in different ways.
This is my story
I’m born asthmatic and stammerer.
What this meant was that I limited my social interactions as a child because I was conscious of the way I spoke spontaneously. But strangely, I went up on the podium, spoke in front of hundreds of students in the school assembly, and won the elocution competitions.
But I got tongue-tied off the stage without the rehearsed speeches. I feared rejection for being me and wore the cloak of silence was my armour.
Despite my negligible social skills, my classmates would regularly vote for me as their class leader. Since I performed well on both the academic and extra-curricular front, I became one of the school captains with the unanimous votes of the students, teachers, and the school principal. Maybe my silence worked in my favour. I wasn’t sure. But now, I also suffered from the Imposter’s Syndrome as well.
The problem started when I graduated from high school. My health was at an all-time low for a good 6-7 years after that. My asthmatic condition hindered my daily routine and affected my academics, especially during my post graduation days. Living in a hostel in a freezing small town, away from my family, certainly didn’t help me at all.
My asthmatic condition exacerbated my stammering, which hit my confidence levels. Asthma is a strange condition. You look absolutely fine to the world, but only a fellow asthmatic would know how difficult it is to catch your breath and function normally like the rest. Things improved after I completed my post graduation and returned to my home.
But, it took me years to heal and accept myself wholly. One day, I decided this was enough. I can’t be hiding anymore and living in fear. It’s tiresome to live that way. So, I attempted to walk to people, even random strangers on my own, and make small talk. Some of them became good friends over the years. This was a luxury that I’d denied myself in my growing years owing to my stuttering condition. But not anymore. I’d talk for hours on the phone with my new friends and felt a sense of achievement. I’ve always loved people, and this newfound courage gave me the impetus to feel less like an imposter.
However, the lack of opportunities for reading out loud, as in the classroom, and taking part in competitions threw me out of gear where public speaking was concerned. Those were rare occasions, but the mean jokes and scornful glares were enough to haunt and give me nightmares for long.
My stammering condition has fluctuated anywhere from manageable to embarrassing where I could hide under the earth or allow it to swallow me up. It’s a nightmare when there’s an asthma flareup that I have to deal with as well.
Discussing Disability Bias
But it’s not the mockery of the stammering disability that sends shivers down my spine as much as the myths that surround people who stutter.
We perceive people with flawless speech as more intelligent, confident, and successful. We label those who stutter as unintelligent, unconfident, unsuccessful, untrustworthy liars, and incapable people.
These flawed perceptions all boil down to one thing alone –
A mere stutter in speech. Much like a scar on the skin.
Those with scars have makeup to the rescue. But stutterers live in an unnatural state of miserable, shamed silence. It’s no surprise that apart from a few within my family and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Emily Blunt, Hrithik Roshan, or Sameera Reddy who spoke about their stammering condition, I’d encountered no one else with it.
Throw in asthma, another hereditary condition, and it’s a wild roller coaster ride in my dark inner cores. Unlike stuttering, asthma is an invisible disability.
Asthmatics still face a lot of stigma and stereotypes, such as ‘weak,’ ‘lazy,’ and ‘nerdy’ in our society.
I look perfectly fine to the world, which cannot understand why it’s hard to take a few steps, climb stairs, lie down in bed, or carry basic tasks. Sometimes it’s a mountain of an effort to breathe and get a single word out during my asthma attacks, which flares up during every seasonal change. Asthma has several other side effects which manifest later in adulthood, including chronic neck and shoulder pain and eczema, all of which I suffer from. I’m on a mission to find steroids and drug-free ways to manage this condition.
It’s because of this hope that I discovered as the light at the end of dark tunnel that I dare to dream of a better world. It will not be a smooth, straight road to the light. And it’s going to take time for the world to accept our bent selves as the norm.
It’s taken almost half of my lifetime to accept my disabilities as part of me wholly. I had to be inclusive of my condition first before I could expect the world to accept me as I am. I’m no longer anxious or bothered anymore if I slip up a word or two when I speak publicly. I’m no longer ashamed of my imperfect speech, and grateful for the voice that I still have. My outlook these days is to see the glass as half-full. At least I have a voice despite my stammering. At least, I am still breathing, despite my asthmatic condition.
I’m no longer apologetic but grateful for my disabilities because it has made me — empathetic, resilient, and human.
I’m reminded of an educated older adult who attributed my stuttering to bad karma. This flawed mindset justifies the insensitivity, bullying, and rejection that stutterers undergo because somehow they deserve it. Telling you’re cursed lifts the entire blame from society and rests it entirely on your head. I’ve seen this lackadaisical attitude extend to other forms of disabilities, too. My maternal uncle (mother’s brother) was born with intellectual disability. By God’s grace, he’s in his mid-sixties today, and being taken care of by my maternal aunt. But we have grown up watching and observing him, and the way our society views people like him. Someday, I’ll tell you his story too.
Your support and participation can make a world of difference in removing the stigma and misconceptions around the people with disabilities.
Do you have a story to share about your disability, or have you lived with and cared for people with disabilities? We need to hear more such stories so that the divide between the so-called ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ is erased. I firmly believe that’s the only way we can start to normalise and humanise disability and truly gift our coming generations into an inclusive world where no one’s left behind.
(This post is a part of “International Day of Disabled Persons” blog hop hosted by Sakshi Varma – Tripleamommy in collaboration with Bookosmia. #IDPD2022Bloghop. Access all posts of this bloghop at https://tripleamommy.com/2022/12/02/idpd2022-lets-make-this-world-a-more-inclusive-space/)