What is ‘normal’?

This is a close up photo of Virali Modi. She is looking away from the camera to the left and she is smiling.

When on a wheelchair, a person generally comes across two types of people: one, where the person is extremely sympathetic and feels pity towards us and other disabled persons and second, where the person thinks that we harbour extreme strength and are extremely special.

Honestly, we don’t need sympathy because we’re way above it and we don’t have a reserve or secret stash for the strength we have.

In all reality, we’re just normal people who met with an unfortunate trauma or situation and have learned to live and to adapt.

Kind of like the theory of evolution – species grow and adapt to their surroundings. We’ve done it with the help of science, doctors, and therapists. True, it does take a great amount of physical strength to become totally independent, kind of like going to the gym. Really, it isn’t much different.

Honestly, we’re all just normal people who like to have fun, watch movies, listen to music, and maybe even drink alcohol from time to time.

We don’t need a saviour, nor do we need someone constantly praising us and saying “they couldn’t live life on a wheelchair”. Really, you could and you would if the situation called for it. Imagine if someone constantly praised you for walking and said, “they couldn’t live life on their legs, like you”, weird, isn’t it? So just an honest plea, treat us how you’d like to be treated.

According to Wikipedia, India has a population of approximately 1 billion people, amongst which 2.21% are disabled. India has been independent for 68 years, but hasn’t achieved any sort of development that can accommodate all its population. As a disabled woman living in Mumbai, I would expect the government and the population to be understanding of my needs and wants. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Being one of the largest cities in India, I would expect Mumbai’s roads, buildings (government, public, and private), and local transportation to be accessible for those with disabilities. The roads are bumpy, and for abled-bodied persons, this wouldn’t make a difference; but for those with a spinal cord injury and other neurological issues, it creates problems, mainly extreme spasticity in the legs, which is really painful. Imagine all of your leg muscles contracting at the same time with unimaginable force, like someone pulling your legs in different directions, really hard. That’s how it feels. The pain is long lasting and unbearable, but we have to rely on medicines to make it bearable.

Many buildings don’t have ramps. If they do, they aren’t well maintained. Public transportation, like the local trains in Mumbai, have a compartment especially for those that are handicapped, but there’s no ramp to get inside the train, let alone to get into the train station itself. Even if there is a way to get inside, it’s usually filled with able-bodied persons, because there isn’t enough room in the other compartments.

Thankfully, most malls are wheelchair-accessible. They have elevators that are big enough for wheelchairs to fit. Guess what? Usually, there are so many people surrounding the elevator, pushing and shoving people to get in, without looking around to see if there’s someone in need of the elevator. Mostly, the escalators are always empty, with no one using them. I’m left waiting for the lift, because other people don’t seem to understand that an elevator is my necessity. The ignorance that some people have is absurd.

This isn’t just about people that use wheelchairs and walkers, but this also relates to people with arthritis in the knees. I know a couple of people who have arthritis and they struggle to go to places, because most places have stairs. Basically, they’re under house arrest because most places cannot accommodate to their needs.

I’m not saying that everyone’s like this, there are many people who understand and are courteous and helpful, but there needs to be more awareness about disability in India. I cannot imagine what the situation must be like for people living in rural areas.

When a person goes through a life-changing ordeal, such as a disability, they’re trained to be independent, no matter what. Especially people with spinal cord injuries. We’re taught how to transfer from our wheelchairs to other surfaces, how to adapt our lives to a new lifestyle that we didn’t want. Then, when we leave our homes, we’re forced to be dependent, because my country doesn’t acknowledge my needs, because my people don’t understand me, and because I’m not considered normal. Which isn’t true. I am normal, I’m exactly the same person I was before becoming wheelchair bound. I just do things differently and I want my country, my government, and my people to understand that.