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EKansh, Pune is working towards the inclusion of People with Disabilities – something that needs awareness, acceptance and sensitivity from all of us.
By Anita Iyer Narayan
There is a thin line between stupidity and insensitivity. I think I crossed it the day I said, “I have to go, it is getting dark outside” to the child I was reading to, at the Blind School in Delhi. “What is ‘dark’?” He asked very casually. This question has stayed with me for longer than I can remember. It haunts me still. I had tried to explain that I meant ‘late’, but I had meant ‘dark’, hadn’t I? What is ‘dark’? And why did it scare me more than it did him?
Somehow, it is really not about having special places for special people. That would be racism of a sort, wouldn’t it? It is about being able to share the whole world with them. They have as much right to it as we do. Yet we decide what is best for them because we refuse to tap our hearts and intellect for ways to deal with their needs. We refuse to learn the languages they speak. Instead we try and come up with devices to make them as much like us as possible. We would do well to introduce Braille and sign language as optional subjects in school. We could have interactive workshops in schools and colleges where special children mingle with ‘normal’ children. But we’d rather skim the surface and do what we can, comfortably. I call us emotionally handicapped.
There is a world on the other side of the mirror but we prefer not to look. Perfect images, made to order, please our eyes so much more that we force parents of special children to sweep entire entities under the carpet with our insensitivity. We almost never see these children at malls and cinemas and birthday parties and parks. Why? I know they enjoy everything ‘normal’ children do, maybe differently, but definitely as much. Why do parents of these very special children rather they live in isolation or confinement than bring them out to face the world? What do these people fear?
And that, I think, is a shame.
The genesis of EKansh
I am Anita Iyer Narayan, Founder and Managing Trustee of EKansh Trust, Pune. We have, in the past few years, managed to touch several minds and mindsets in the effort to facilitate mainstreaming of People with Disabilities (PwD) via our seminar, job fair, workshops, lectures, calendars and other such tools.
Programs at EKansh
When I moved from Gurgaon to Pune, I was looking for something meaningful to do. So, I did the usual circuit of NGOs to see if I fit in anywhere and found that most required fluency in Marathi, and in spite of a Bombay upbringing, I am not extremely fluent in spoken Marathi – Chimanrao, GundyaBhau and Dhituklya* not withstanding.
Then I set about trying to understand the world of the Deaf…how do they cope without language? What is Sign Language? I remembered seeing a group of men signing and laughing out loud outside King’s Circle Garden as a child and wondering how they managed to communicate so much without saying anything at all. Amazing it was…and so I conducted a couple of sensitization programs for the hearing with a team of instructors and interpreters in the Indian Sign Language from Mumbai.
Can you believe that Indian Sign Language is not recognized as a proper language in India yet? There is no standardization though one visit to a school for the hearing impaired will reveal that all the kids there can sign fluently. They are dissuaded from signing so that they can fit into mainstream society; sometimes even punished for trying to communicate with their hands. Our weekend introductory sessions to Indian Sign Language aim at letting Hearing People get a peek at this silent world.
From information to inclusion
EKansh was supposed to remain a repository of information and carry links to all news and organizations that had anything to do with disabilities. It was also supposed to be a place for families of PwD to chat and find support. Suddenly the website decided to step out of the screen when I saw kids learning Karate in my society and I read up about how it can help children with disabilities. Our first event was a Karate Workshop for special children. However, the response was tepid to say the least and I put that idea on hold.
And then something terrible happened. My maternal grandmother took seriously ill. She would throw up blood through her mouth and nose – she had what was called fundal varices, the result of the steroids and other drugs she had taken for her chronic asthma. During one of her bouts, we had to call the ambulance and when it arrived, the wheelchair wouldn’t fit into the building elevator with an attendant! She had to be brought down three floors on a makeshift stretcher in full view of other residents in the building. The absolute disregard for the dignity of an elderly human being on the part of those who designed and constructed the building was appalling! What if someone died on the top floor and went into rigor mortis before the family came? What would be the weight of the body? How would they bring it down? Where is the respect?
So I got together a team and organized a competition for students of architecture in Barrier Free Design. I thought it would be best to sensitize them at an early stage. The prize giving ceremony was followed by two days of sensitization about different disabilities and issues. Since then, EKansh has not looked back.
Today, our ‘repertoire’ includes Weekend Sign Language Workshops for the hearing, lectures and workshops for students and teachers of architecture in Barrier Free Design, awareness sessions and material for slum and rural dwellers on disability prevention, detection and early intervention, job fairs for People with Disabilities, general disability awareness sessions for corporates, clubs and training in soft and work skills for People with Disabilities. Our aim is to ensure that awareness, acceptance and sensitivity come before inclusion, as we believe that inclusion via policies and laws will only be superficial.
The journey is long and winding and support is always welcome. We welcome all contributions – of time, effort and funds. Our website address is www.ekansh.org and you are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Popular characters from Marathi television programs
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