29 October 2018

Shall we try being differently-abled?

Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the second article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

Pic courtesy www.ft.lk

‘Able’ is a word you probably have heard. It simply means having some kind of power, strength, skill or opportunity to do something.  All of us can do certain things. You can run and therefore we say you are able to run. Ability means, simply, ‘being able’ to do something. For example, ‘she has the ability to remember things very well’.  So we know she is able to remember.  

All of us can do things. Some of us can do certain things better than others. Some of us can do certain things better than most others can. 

Now let’s think of the opposite. Let’s talk about inability. It’s about being unable to do something.  You could think of a hundred things you can’t do. You can’t jump over a high wall. There are some trees you can’t climb. There can be other things you are unable to do. Maybe you will be able to do it someday, when you are older perhaps, but you do know that there are things that you just can’t do right now.  

It’s not just you. It’s the same for others. People can do certain things and can’t do other things. We don’t realize this. We associate inability usually with disabled people. We have eyes, so if we see someone who is blind we immediately sense we have more power than the blind person.  We can see, that person can’t; so we are more able, we think. 

I used to think so too. Until I met Dr Weerakkody, a professor at the University of Peradeniya. He was a professor of Western Classical Culture. He could play the flute beautifully.  I knew nothing about Western Classical Culture and I never mastered a musical instrument. So even on these matters he was far more able than I was.  

What really amazed me was his sense of hearing. He could recognize a person by his or her footsteps. He would sometimes stop someone and call out the person’s name. If I saw him in the morning and greeted him, he would immediately say ‘Good morning, Malinda!’

I found that incredible, but what truly astounded me was how he crossed the road. 

Dr Weerakkody lived in a hostel on the other side of the Gampola Road. There’s not a lot of traffic on that road, but there can be times when it’s not easy to cross it, either because there are lots of vehicles or the few on the road are moving very fast. Dr Weerakkody never needed anyone’s help crossing the Gampola Road. On many occasions, he would cross the road with more confidence than young undergraduates who had sight. 

I have tried to close my eyes and see if I can recognize people by their voices or footsteps. I have tried to walk with my eyes closed. I have failed. And still, I have realized that when I keep my eyes closed, I hear things I would normally not have heard. When I close my eyes and pass my hands over things, at first I don’t recognize everything but little by little I do. My fingers even tell me things that my eyes do not. For example, when I run my fingers over a table slowly I can feel the dust. I realize that the surface is not smooth, there are rough places and even places where the wood has got chipped a little. 

It’s the same with other ‘abilities’. Try walking around on one foot. Try doing things with just one hand. Try to explain something without words or voice. It’s not easy.  

You don’t have to watch the Paralympics to understand that those who we think are disabled are in fact capable of amazing achievements that those of us who are not disabled cannot dream of achieving.  

Try being a bit ‘disabled’ and you will understand what ‘differently abled’ means. In fact if you do it regularly enough you will find that your sight, hearing, communication skills etc can actually improve.

We are all differently abled. That’s the truth. 


Articles for THE NATION
A puddle is a canvas
Venus-Serena tied at love-all
Some jokes are not funny
There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
Collect something crazy
Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table