Trigger Warning: Experience of Bullying and Ableism.
“How do you make friends? You can’t even walk properly.” These were the words that I heard in the first year of my college hostel room. Traumatic memories of the ableism that I’ve experienced as a disabled person.
I have had Cerebral Palsy with Spastic Hemiparesis on the left side of my body since my birth. My mother usually says, “If I didn’t have Jaundice during my pregnancy, you would’ve been born normal.” The idea of becoming “normal” was put in my mind from the very beginning. Normal meant “being cured or to be fixed“. In the ableist society, disabilities are often seen negatively as a burden and the narrative of getting cured of the disabilities to lead a normal life is just problematic. The cure-focused ableism is what I’m experiencing every other day.
“Seedhe chalo, haath khol ke rakho. Jaldi hi achhe se doctor ko dikhaynege aur sab theek ho jayega” These phrases by my able-bodied relatives keep on echoing in my mind, among other things. The instructions to do things a certain way had made me conscious of my own body and identity.
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Ananay Koushal talks about his experience as a person with disability in his article “You Don’t Look So Disabled”: Navigating Through Ableism. . This piece is as raw and real as it gets and it moved me deeply. Please read it and share the story forward! . Thank you @youthkiawaaz for publishing this article on your page! you can read this article by clicking on the link in our bio. . #RPWD #nothingaboutuswithoutus #disabilityawareness
Internalising ableism peaked when I was in high school. Mostly everything is wrong with Indian school spaces: toxic, inaccessible, ableist, homophobic, and whatnot. Non-Disabled people are often curious about disabilities, often to ridicule people with disabilities and their sexuality. Similarly, my classmates from the new school were curious about my disability and why I walked a certain way, only to predict the incoming bullying. Answering disability-related questions could be anxiety-provoking for people with disabilities as it means going back to traumatic experiences and we might not even feel safe while opening up to somebody.
If you genuinely want to know about disability and be a supportive ally, then you’re most welcome. You could even find online resources around disability and educate yourself before asking any inadequate questions to make disabled people feel uncomfortable, sadly online resources could be inaccessible. Language can be used as an oppressive tool, and using slurs in everyday life which are ableist in nature could be triggering for the people from the marginalised disabled community.
The sports/games period was always a time in school during which I panicked the most. I felt anxious getting on the playground, as I’ve been bullied and called names many times for walking a certain way and for having different hand movements. I started getting an aversion to sports in school because of the constant bullying by a few classmates for running differently and maybe not being able to catch the ball.
I was usually the last person to get selected in teams during the few times I gathered the courage to go to the playground and play. I used to move back in the line when my turn was about to come for running and always found a group of friends who didn’t want to play and just sit and talk. Oh, the fear of not being judged had taken up a huge space in my head and I felt normal only inside the enclosed walls of my room when no one was around.
Always being surrounded by the toxic behaviour of boys who boasted about their non-disabled bodies for being able to do great in sports, I wanted to be accepted. Yes, I loved watching football during my childhood and played it with my brother at home, but when the time came to play football in school, the anxiety of not having a “normal body” came in. This worsened with each passing year and I felt happy on the rainy days because no sports on those days, and this has continued into my college life too. I don’t like to play sports with more than two or three people.
Genderization does create a lot of hierarchies and inequalities. Boys and girls, from an early age of 8 or 9 years, are expected to do things in a certain way. I did expose myself to activities that were supposed to be done by boys only through socialization. Now, I’m unlearning things.
Sports activities in school are not inclusive and are a constant source of anxiety for students with disabilities. In addition to that, my body weight, which was constantly increasing during adolescence, doubled apprehensions surrounding my very own self.
A classmate in seventh grade made an ableist slur in Hindi in the comments of my full body profile photo on Facebook. I felt publicly humiliated, and since then, I’ve had apprehensions about putting myself out there on social media.
My disability isn’t immediately visible unless there are some limbs movements. The most common ableist phrase I hear is, “Oh, You don’t look so disabled“.
We need to call out such statements as by simply looking at someone, you can’t tell if a person is disabled and there are many invisible disabilities, and it’s always not physical. All kinds of disabilities are valid and you don’t need to necessarily respond to those who question your disability, it could be triggering.
It was a few months back that I started embracing my disabled identity after years of lived experience as a disabled person, and I accept my differences. I’m Disabled and not specially-abled or differently-abled. Stop tone-policing and intimidating people from marginalised communities. In no way, able-bodied people should narrate the lived experience of people with disabilities. We would reach out to you if we need help, don’t offer us unsolicited help or care.
I acknowledge my privilege of being a cismale; coming from an upper-middle-class family and I’m aware of my social position in taking up space. We need more disabled people taking up space from various intersections and sharing their experiences to make a more inclusive, accessible and socially aware society.
There aren’t “special needs“, but the discriminatory policies and regressive institutions are inaccessible to people with disabilities and mostly cater to the needs of the able-bodied people. Accessibility is an absolute necessity. It’s not something “extra,” it’s not only about getting through physical spaces but about communications, social media, in availing resources, being able to enjoy your music and so on.
July was the Disability Pride Month and I continue to learn and unlearn so many things about disability from some amazing disabled people online. Every lived experience of disability is important. Inclusion is important.
It’s been quite a journey since I’ve started to embrace my disability from that day in the first year, and I would end by saying, “Disabled people are not inspirational and not there to make able-bodied people good about themselves, and I need no cure. One more thing, stop being extra nice to us.”
This article is written by Ananay Koushal, who is a student of St. Stephen’s College of the University of Delhi. You can reach the Convenor of JAF Shameer Rishad on Twitter.