Understanding Privilege… When you no longer have it.​

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Image credit: Upasana Agarwal

Understanding Privilege… When you no longer have it.

Last month I observed my 100 days of being on bed rest. For those of you who don’t know, at the beginning of 2021, I had met with a massive accident in Goa (a place I have called home for the past few years). I did not realise then, but the accident would leave me physically disabled for months to come.

As I stepped into the shoes of a person with a physical disability, albeit temporarily, it opened a whole new vantage point for me. The world looked a lot bigger and a lot scarier from where I sat. As a person working in the space of diversity and inclusion, for the first time, I truly understood what privilege is. When it was taken away from me, I truly understood what it means and today, I have a deeper appreciation for it.

I would like to share with you some of the challenges that I faced, as this experience has made me more determined to continue to work in this space.

 

Accessibility: Not a walk in the Park.

Post the accident, I moved to my hometown, Kanpur for support purposes. Needing fresh air, I looked for a park to visit. To my surprise and somewhat of a shock, it took me a month to find a park that had a functional ramp at its entrance!

To be clear many parks do have ramps, but they are under lock and key. On further inquiry with the security personnel to open the gate, I was told, “The gate has been shut for many years”, “We do not know where the key is”, “Why don’t you go to another park”!

Upon further probing, I was told not many people with a physical disability visited the parks. Due to this, the parks that did have a ramp just simply closed the one gate that provided accessibility!

Is this apathy justified? I think not! 

This made me realise that the world around us is not a walk in the park. We face obstacles every step of the way, and for a person with a disability, this gets amplified. A person in a wheelchair or using crutches is denied the simple luxury of moving around freely and independently. Public places are rarely built keeping accessibility in mind and the ones that provide such facilities may be out of commission.

The question beckons- who is to be blamed for such insensitivity?  The society, The system or the security company? We as a society need to work together to ensure that everyone feels belonged, and one easy step is to view people with an equitable lens and recognise that all of us need support in our unique ways.

 

As a DEIB consultant, I also feel increasing the scope of stakeholders from just employees to support staff and employee families will create change with a stronger ripple effect. Sensitisation sessions and workshops with on-ground stakeholders help too.

 

True or False: Folks with disabilities don’t desire or can’t be in meaningful relationships.

False!

Human beings are complicated, and we all desire and deserve to have meaningful relationships and where we feel loved and cared for. This need is felt by people with disabilities too. I had some amusing interactions while being on dating apps. Anyone who has been on such apps knows that after the usual banter, it comes down to business; when I say business, I mean the question, “What are you looking for?” (Keeping the current covid situation out of the equation), it would usually be met with a response such as someone to chat, a casual dinner/coffee date or an instant hook-up. Once the expectations are set, you move on to chatting about trivial details. If during our conversation, I’d disclose that I’m on bed rest due to an accident, it would be met with mixed responses from curiosity, empathy, shared experience or infuriating responses like, “Can you get it up!”, “That still works right”, “Why are you wasting my time when you can’t meet..” “you should have been honest with me at the beginning..”, “why don’t you find someone who compliments you”.

Internet is filled with trolls and people who think they can say anything within the safety of the screen. While I understand the difference in all its forms is often feared but what does one do with people who can be hurtful, intentionally or unconsciously?

To them, I say, you don’t need to understand my difference, but you surely can be respectful to a fellow human being. Isn’t that the very least that we can expect from each other?

 

Patronize me not!

We are humans and deserve respect.  Many friends, family members and even strangers at the airport or public spaces would say things like, “I know what you are going through” or “I know this must be hard.” (Disclaimer! I’ve also been guilty of saying such phrases in the past.)

While I do understand the need to offer support during such a time, such words don’t help the situation or the person. As a person without a disability, someone will never completely understand what the person is feeling or going through. Saying things like, “Please let me know how I can support you”, – may be more useful. Taking the empathy approach trumps over showing sympathy!

Many times during my hospital visits, a nurse would talk down to me and make me feel like “undesirable number 1” (shoutout to all HP fans). After two months, as I progressed from wheelchair to crutches, I noticed her attitude shift. She would behave more appropriately, with a brighter disposition. I’m still finding the answer to the question, why do people think someone is helpless in a wheelchair but intelligent and independent when standing up?

As I write this, it’s becoming even clearer that a lot more work needs to be done in the space of creating an equitable, inclusive society and bringing about change.

Let’s begin to celebrate our differences, both visible and unseen to the naked eye; they surely can be the foundation to a lasting relationship. And a step forward for the whole of humanity.

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