“Disability is in the mind of the observer, not the observed”. In her role as as a disability rights activist, Malvika gives talks on the importance of accessibility and mental health. In an interview with THE WEEK, she said, “People with disabilities face a lot of attitudinal problems. I myself have been a victim of this. Framing our perspective to think of people with disabilities as ‘differently-abled’ allows us to see them as individuals with unique competencies, and shift the focus away from their limitations”.
On the occasion of World Disability Day 2019, Malvika tweeted, “17 years ago, when I was lying on the hospital bed, I heard a bunch of women whisper, ‘Did you see that new girl in the general ward? What a shame! She must be cursed as now her life has now come to an end.’ That was the very first time I cried my eyes out. Not when I saw my amputated arms covered in blood. Not when I saw the doctors drilling iron rods inside my leg. Not when I was battling for my dear life. I was labeled the disabled girl with no future. The naive 13 year old mind inside me was ready to believe their verdict on my life and had it not been for the unconditional support of my family and friends, I’d have given up.
The most critical barrier people with disabilities face is the invisible barrier of attitudes. Attitudes are so significant that they represent more of a barrier to people with disabilities than any functional limitation caused by the disability. Mental illness is seen as a curse, although it is something that each one of us undergoes in varying degrees of intensity. Most people don’t take treatment for mental illness due to the fear of stigma, isolation or rejection. The Census of India 2011 states that there are 26.8 million people with disabilities in India who constitute 2.21% of the total population. When we talk about social and economic development we must understand that negative attitude towards people with disabilities affects their ability to settle into the mainstream society, access employment and services. They are unable to perform work well suited to their skills and interests due to low self- esteem. Oftentimes, people who feel harassed because of their disability avoid going to public gatherings. People with disabilities even refrain from expressing their sexuality.
To provide inclusive opportunities for persons with disabilities, first and foremost, we need acceptance. We need open communication. People with disabilities are not a uniform social group. Sensitizing our society about the unique needs of people with disabilities is essential. Once the maya of societal attitude is removed, disabled people are more aware of what they deserve from the society. People with disabilities in India are now aware of their own voice in policy making when it comes to disability. We need representation at the political level. Negative attitudes are a result of lack of knowledge and segregation of the person with a disability. This is where education comes in picture. Education is indispensable for change. We need to sensitize young minds about such discriminatory attitudes. We must include success stories of persons with disabilities in the school curriculum instead of showing them as objects of charity. We need to show people with disabilities as role models instead of showing them as weak and dependant.
Research suggests that, disability studies transforms the understanding of disability from an individual deficit to a complex byproduct of social, environmental, and biological forces. We must follow the social model of disability and ensure integration of children with disabilities in schools and colleges, inclusive hiring and adaptation of standardized technology in workplaces. We need more films that promote a positive outlook towards disability instead of engaging in stereotypical beliefs.
I’m a product of inclusion and it’s my dream to see every individual with a disability to be embraced by their society.”
The challenges faced by people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are not easily understood, reports NewzHook. Dr Malvika Iyer, the well-known disability rights activist, is trying to change this through an animated educational video created with sister Kadambari. “I believe it is my social responsibility as a person with disability to create this awareness. My challenges are not the same as that of a visually impaired person or a wheelchair user so it is important for me to make sure that people understand that everyone is unique, and we must do our best to include everyone”.