On World Disability Day, I wish to share my story. My name is Salesh and I was a premature baby, born at 7 months. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy a few months after my birth. This restricted my mobility and I couldn't walk or use my right hand. At first, the doctors thought I would remain a vegetable for the rest of my life. But my parents never gave up on me. My mom used to carry me to school. A small corrective surgery followed and I began to walk with the help of a crutch. But I didn't want to lean on to the crutch for the rest of my life and I eventually started walking on my own.
It was difficult but not impossible. My parents were determined to give me a normal life which would make me self-sufficient and independent in the long run. They would give me story-books to compensate for my lack of playtime.
When I started my schooling, special schools were the only option as most of the regular schools thought that I wouldn't fit in with the able-bodied kids. But eventually, one school near my home was gracious enough to have me as their student. It was all rosy in the beginning as there was not much of a difference. But as I began moving up, the students looked at me differently. I was isolated. At best, I was a sympathetic inclusion in a gang of students. A couple of schools even refused me admission for higher education because I was a person with disabilities.
English was a bright spot. It was my 6th grade English teacher who identified that I was fluent in the language. She would give me special tasks like rewriting the English summaries in my own words and coaching my fellow students. Unfortunately, academic pressures took over and I stopped writing. But I breezed through the rest of my school term and college with flying colours. I completed my UG in Loyola College and PG in PSG Tech Coimbatore.
However, the real struggle of actually being a person with disabilities started with my corporate stint. In my 8 - 9 years of working in a corporate environment, I have seen both the highs and lows of the corporate world. While some companies really do care, inclusion is just a myth in most cases. I realised this when I was repeatedly denied promotion and not given additional responsibilities because I was a person with disability. There is always a problem with role identification when the person has a disability. In some companies, such a person is hired just there to make up the numbers.
Although there are efforts by some corporate offices to make the workplace more inclusive, these are not enough. Small things can go a long way in making a difference - like providing transport, disabled-friendly washrooms and a workspace which nullifies the inherent difficulties. In most cases, we make do with what is given to us.
For example, in one of the companies I worked for, I had to travel on my own for a couple of years and was not given a cab even though the company had the power to provide the same. Because of my disability, I have difficulty travelling on public transport (which again, is seldom designed keeping persons with disability in mind) and as a result of this, I have to opt for more expensive mode of transportation for long distances on a day to day basis. It wasn't until I raised the issue with the HR that a cab was provided. Separate washrooms or lifts were almost non-existent in most offices. This is also true in the case of public places.
I took up writing again through blogging to cope with the difficulties in my workplace and to get over a personal loss. It helped me find my own support system and break the misconceptions regarding disability. Eventually, I quit my corporate job and I am now part of a media and production company. It is my most secure workplace thus far, one where people respect me for who I am and value my opinion.
I have written for an anthology After the Floods by the Chennai Bloggers Club. I am a standup comedy critic, a movie reviewer, and a regular performer at the open mics in Chennai.
I have not let my disability stop me, but life can be so much easier for people like me if only society would become more sensitive. People need to remove their pre-conceived notions regarding people with disability. It is time for everyone to open up and become empathetic. It is time to warmly embrace people who are different and make them feel that they really belong. There is a wide gap between what people with disability actually need and others' perception of what we need. All of this needs to be sorted out for a really inclusive environment. We are all one and the same with different versions of special abilities.
I am someone who firmly believes in living life one day at a time. I fill my life with small moments of happiness every day and I would I like to sign off with this. " Live Life on your own term for you have only one chance to be somebody's inspiration". I hope to at least be a small voice on behalf of all my brothers and sisters with disabilities out there.
Views expressed are author's own.