By Jolly Mohan:
Writing about your most intimate experiences is not an easy thing, and takes some guts. But if it helps people change the way they think, I believe it is totally worth it. With this belief, on World Disability Day (December 3, 2016), I wrote on Youth Ki Awaaz about how tough it is for a girl like me – ambitious, driven, career-focused, someone who lives life to the fullest – to perform the basic task of going to the toilet, just because I use a wheelchair. Yes, toilets in our country are not built keeping us – over 54 lakh citizens with a mobility impairment – in mind, and it affects our whole lives.
My article addressed how inaccessibility to toilets affects my health, my job, my lifestyle, and how it has forced me to wear adult diapers, even though I am in good health! Anywhere I went – school, offices, train stations and other public spaces, I don’t find accessible toilets, and this has taken a major toll on the quality of my life, and that of my fellow wheelchair wanderers. Somebody had to bring this to the notice of the Government, and people in general. So, why not me?
The intention of writing about my experience was to help people imagine the trauma wheelchair users experience everyday. However, I never expected the kind of response it ultimately generated, from friends, relatives and complete strangers from across the globe. People shared their thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and FB Messenger. For the first time in my adult life, I felt hope because people were actually placing themselves in my shoes, and trying to understand how difficult it is to go for hours without drinking water because there’s no washroom to relieve yourself, or how I needed to think umpteen times before venturing out because my country is so inaccessible.
To really understand someone else’s pain you need to have empathy, more than sympathy. And going step further you have to take some action. In my case, the change started with my own company, which has taken on a drive towards accessible toilets as well as a cleanliness drive. Though my organisation has wheelchair accessible toilets, cleanliness was a key issue. There were also certain accessibility issues. However, my HR made sure that all this was sorted out and every hour the washrooms were cleaned every hour. They also did something that really touched me – they placed hand dryers in the washroom so that I could keep my hands dry even in this winter and keep myself warm. I think it is a great effort and I really appreciate what my organisation is doing for me.
Change comes slowly and it does not happen on its own. As citizens, we have a power within us to change things. I am glad I took this first step by writing about my experience. I believe that access to toilets in a human right and that my first battle has been won. But we need to keep raising our voices to win the war on accessibility and I invite my fellow wheelchair users to join me in this journey of change.
Jolly Mohan’s article was read by almost 200,000 people, shared over 20,000 times, and it sparked hundreds of important conversations on social media. You too, can #StartTheChange by writing about an issue that matters to you. Publish your story today.