Is India changing for the better for persons with disabilities? : A personal reflection

A photo of a girl on a wheelchair crossing a busy road.

Everyone knows that India isn’t exactly considered disabled friendly. Roads aren’t smooth enough for wheelchairs to glide across them effortlessly

Everyone knows that India isn’t exactly considered disabled friendly. Roads aren’t smooth enough for wheelchairs to glide across them effortlessly, there are potholes on smaller streets, and most places do not have ramps or elevators. It is also known that some Indians consider disability to be contagious, or believe that persons with disabilities are incompetent.

Of course, there is no truth to this, and all kinds of people, from activists to laypersons, are  trying to promote awareness about disability. People are fighting for their basic needs and rights. Being a wheelchair-bound woman living in Mumbai, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. The real question remains – is India changing?

There have been numerous times when random people have come up to me to ask me about my condition. Upon learning about it, they’ve given me a potential ‘cure’, saying that one of their relatives had the same problem as me, and that applying an oil with a mixture of herbs they named would cure me.

I fell for it once. I was led by one of these people, a woman, to an ayurvedic store where the bill of all the ingredients came up to 1,50,000 rupees ($2,330) approximately. I didn’t buy the ingredients right away, but took the list to an ayurvedic doctor.  He told me to never apply such an mix on myself because it would be toxic. It would have given me pus-filled boils if I’d used it. When I found out about this, I was shocked to know that people are willing to risk another person’s life just to earn money.

People also tend to stare when I leave the house. I can understand that it might be new and surprising to see a wheelchair-bound person out and about, and not worried about the roads and traffic, but is it necessary to stare? Sure, you can glance, you can wonder why I’m on a wheelchair, you can even strike up a conversation with me. Is it necessary to stare, though? Am I really that interesting? Honestly, I think that a cow walking without any fear in the midst of traffic is more interesting than me sitting on a wheelchair going about my business.

It makes me wonder, how would the person staring feel if they were in the same situation as me? Would they feel weird or bad about themselves? Would they feel like a freak show or a circus act? If they wouldn’t like someone staring at them, why do they stare at someone who is slightly different than them?

On the other hand, there are people who go out of their way to be supportive. While walking home from a movie, my mom and I got stuck on an intersection in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was no way for me to get across, and suddenly a man on a motorcycle came up and directed me through the traffic while shouting at everyone to be understanding and courteous towards me. At this moment, I was quite overwhelmed and happy that one person thought of my needs before theirs, even if anyone else didn’t think like that.

On many occasions, people have randomly come up to me, asking if I need help getting up or downstairs, around the curb, and up or down ramps. Despite rampant ignorance about disability there are still people who are understanding, appreciative, and helpful. These people are the future of India.

The question still remains, is India changing? Will it continue to change? Yes, I do think India is changing and that it will continue to change. The government is introducing ramps into buildings, people are becoming more understanding, and public places are more accommodating towards our needs and our rights. Isn’t that change?

Featured image credit: Louise Beauval