03 December 2015

Today is a good day to stand before the mirror

Today (December 3) is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  December 3 has been set apart by the United Nations to bring attention to the entire gamut of issues pertaining to disabled persons and disabilities. 

I have written previously about this issue, focusing on misconceptions about the meaning of ‘disability’ and the limited understanding of related conditions including a manifest insensitivity in numerous spheres.  When we hear the term we immediately conjure the image of a person in crutches or with a white cane.  We forget that old people, pregnant women and those who are sick or not exactly fully-fit, ‘able’ individuals.  They require assistance of one form or another and one of the key areas where there is a woeful lack of sensitivity is that of access.  There is something lacking in the architectural gaze as well as policy initiatives so necessary fro such people to live productive lives, and be and feel safe in a wide array of environments. 

There is a serious need to create awareness about such issues and to be pro-active in ensuring dignity and justice for all disabled persons.  Today there is relevant legislation.  Implementation, as is the case in many things, remains slow. 

Today, ladies and gentlemen, on this ‘International Day of Disabled Persons’, I want to talk about another aspect of the terms ‘disabled’ and ‘disabilities’.  I want to write about being visually handicapped, about having hearting disabilities, speech difficulty, cognitive handicaps and mental sloth. 

I believe that all of us are visually handicapped one way or another.  Our eyes gloss over, sweep past or miss certain things.   We find it hard to read between the lines.  We don’t see wrong and wrong-doing, perpetrator and victim. We mis-name. For convenience.  We have failing and failed eyesight.
Think about it, we are also hard of hearing, aren’t we?  Isn’t it true that we are oblivious to certain cries and that we turn up the volume of songs and conversations so that things uncomfortable are drowned in the cacophony of preferred music? Don’t we hear certain things like we hear the plaintive cry of an unidentified bird from a far away we don’t have the legs to visit?  We have hearing disabilities, this is true.  

It can’t be that we’ve lost our sense of smell, but we consistently whiff fashionable fragrances. The less favoured aromas trouble us, don’t they? Isn’t this why we often turn our noses up to avoid such blasts of flavoured-wind? 

We are a mute species, I have concluded.  We have flawed tongues. Twisted ones.  We are partial certain flavours and puke if by chance we tossed in something our tongues are not used to or find too bitter and therefore unpalatable.  Our twisted and disabled tongues bend to say certain things and not others: have you wondered why?  It is not that we are necessarily inarticulate.  We have vocabulary and are skilled at word-play. We nevertheless choose silence or mumble feigned incoherence hoping that we will not be called upon to give life to voice and tongue. 

We raise our hands high to get someone’s attention, but we put it down when called upon to clench fist and protest certain tyrannies.  Sometimes our feet are like clay, they refuse to budge even when it is imperative that we take the first step of the necessary journey.  Sloth and preference persuade us to stay put and if possible drag everyone down the proverbial garden path.  For such things we do have hands and legs.  We run when we ought to stand and fight. We cross our arms and shrug our shoulders when we could extend a hand of friendship or give help to those who need it.  We prefer hand to ‘take’ and not ‘give’.  Yes, we are a crippled species.

Sometimes we are utterly incapable of understanding why things happen in the way they do. Well, we can but we don’t try.  The reason is simple.  If we employ our minds it is not difficult to figure out what’s what, what the real deal is and what the misleading, what’s wrong and what’s right, just and unjust etc.  The problem is that once understood the natural next step is to do something about what we’ve understood.  Choosing not to understand allows us to sleep well as night.  We are a lazy species, aren’t we?

We have short memory spans and tend to forget; especially the names of those who helped us come to where we are right now.  We remember instead the names of those who can help us, those who have utility value. We don’t bother to remember the faces of those who are ‘inconsequential’.  Alzheimer’s is the defining affliction of our species.  And we are its willing victims.

Do we have minds? Yes we do.  We are experts at sorting things out, separating things into piles, the ‘in’ and ‘out’ trays of convenience and inconvenience. We know how to insert and delete, edit out and edit in. We have this incredible capacity to pluck the rose and bad-mouth the thorn, to distill comfort from discomfort and pretend that the dregs don’t exist.  We never ask ourselves, do we, if rose is really rose and thorn really thorn, whether the naming was actually a mis-naming for deceiving and self-deception?  We have crippled minds, us humans do.

Today is the International Day of Disabled Persons.  An appropriate day I believe to self-indulge in a different way, to reflect on our disabilities, revisit the choices we’ve made, cast our gaze at that which our eyes avoided, listen to things we don’t really like to hear, speak the inconvenient truths that might cost us something, walk in directions we’ve dared not walk, raise our hands to the right thing and not that which is profitable.  Appropriate too, to employ our minds to understand who we really our as an ungainly composite of ability and disability. 

I believe that we would be lesser mortals than we can be when we are in denial, especially about our disabilities.  If we do not, on the other hand, deny to ourselves the truth about who we are then alone do we acquire membership to civilization.  Are we brave enough?  Are we humble enough? Arrogance is the badge of the human race and when it comes to humility we are quite deficient, aren’t we?

Yes, today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  It's my day and maybe it's yours too. There’s something simple we can do today.  Look in the mirror.  That’s what I plan to do. 

Malinda Seneviratne can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com.

This article was first published in the Daily News on December 3, 2009