Here’s a blessing of blindness that sales managers envy

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

Whenever you talk about a thing like blindness, the first thing that comes to mind is the negatives. Even the blind people (and I’m not generalizing) who’re usually positive are made to feel quite defencive about their disability, not because they lack self-belief, but because people around them perpetrate the belief that they’ve remarkably fewer abilities.

It might sound ridiculous, but I’ve been asked things like “do you shave on your own,” and even “do you bathe yourself?” Such questions usually come from those who haven’t met a blind person; those who think that blindness make us a lesser of a human being and diminishes our intelligence.

Even otherwise, human beings universally are conditioned to think that blindness is a disability, a serious limitation that impairs a person’s ability to function in most situations. Which may be true to a greater extent, but it’s also true that most of the environments we function are designed for those who can see and rarely help enhance the abilities of someone who can’t.

The so-called mainstream world strongly believes that not seeing is a negative side of a person and it’s virtually impossible to lead a gratifying life without sight. I’ve written in these very pages before that this general and very stereotypical characterization of blindness isn’t always true.

First, let’s get this out of the way: blindness isn’t an experiment or necessarily the fun thing; even someone like me who thinks blindness isn’t all that bad doesn’t wish anyone to be blind. But we live in the world of technologically-driven enlightenment, where diversity is an asset and inclusion is a virtue. So, you can’t exclude the disability or blindness experience. And if you ought to include the blindness narrative in the mainstream, you can’t be talking about it in a negative sense and portray blind people as some kind of Braveheart tragic heroes.

That leaves us with the positives of being blind. And let me assure you that whatever I’m saying isn’t theoretical or hypothetical; these are facts derived from real life experiences. I can narrate a story on each of them, but that’d mean I’ll have to write a book instead of a blogpost. So, let me just talk about the points.

*No expectations:

If you’re blind, no one expects you to be efficient at anything. Yeah, yeah, I hear you grumbling about the stereotypical characterization of the blind man keeping precise and measured steps. But that’s not always true, especially in a professional environment. I’m not suggesting people don’t believe in your efficiency, but they don’t set the bar very high, which is a positive thing because you can still reach higher standards without having to endure the pressure.

I’m sure those ‘able-bodied’ folks reading this, especially those working in marketing and sales, may wish it were true for them, because higher targets and tougher deadlines mostly achieve the opposite effect: blunting the individual’s ability to excel. So, we have a bright smile and nod in relieved acknowledgement that “I don’t have to go through that grind, but can still do much better than whatever the target my boss could’ve set for me.” And what more, your productivity levels are naturally very high and you don’t get stressed out so quick.

*Insulated from hate:

Let’s face this: there’s so much hate around the world on account of one’s religious, caste and political affiliations. And social media has given the freedom for many to vent their ire. And it’s all getting a wee bit out of control and distasteful. The only category of people who escape from politicization of their identity are people with disability. No matter what religion, caste or community I belong, people refer to me as “that blind man,” which could irk me in certain circumstances, but the fact that I somehow become a universally acceptable identity is a relief in these days of political polarization (honestly, anything that saves me from twitter trolls and Facebook warriers is a relief).

* Ignoring unimportant things:

Being blind doesn’t impair my imagination. I can picture the reddish tint of the horizon before the orange glow of the sun showing up from the depths of the blue, especially since I grew up in a coastal city where I had opportunities to witness the dawn at the beach (during my days as a kid who could see).

I can picture most of the common flowers like rose or jasmine. A garden of sunflowers looking like a yellow layer above the green leaves that I happened to see in a movie song still remains fresh in my memory.

The blessing of blindness is that I can afford to ignore most of the unimportant things around me. Particularly the television. Yeah, you may be a fan of ‘the game of thrones’ or the local version of who wants to be a millionaire, but I agree with Stephen King who says turning off that monster of an instrument is bound to improve your quality of life.

Not just that, I won’t know a flushed face (except for the emoticon), a wonderful thing considering that anger is instantly communicable. I could focus on my work without getting distracted, even if a beauty queen in her best attire were to go past my desk. That helps me maintain the quality of my work and improve productivity at large.

What sights can do to most people, sounds would do to me. So a beautiful voice, for instance, helps me picture a brilliant face and, what more, I can always picture that face as a loving and kind one even if the person in reality can’t be described with those attributes.

And I can go on. But the point is this: every situation in life has positives. It’s up to you to look at the brighter side, even if it’s dark. After all, the other side of darkness is often bright!

Advertisement

Believe me, you can see without eyes!

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

I don’t have to explain to Indians and a few others from outside the subcontinent about Lord Shiva’s third eye, elegantly portrayed in pictures of him adorning the prayer rooms of devote Hindus across the country.

Across the world, people believe in the third eye: called the Agnya Chakra in some spiritual practices. Concentrating on the Agnya chakra would open up the Kundalini, or so some practitioners of deep meditation techniques say. Please don’t quote me on this or try practicing it without training.

The point I’m trying to make here is, a person can see without actually physically seeing. Even for those who are born blind, there are methods of observation through other senses and by gleaning visual cues from people populating their environment.

My fellow blind brothers and sisters may not necessarily agree with me, since most of them confuse developing a visual sense with the desperation to belong to the world of seeing people.

But if you are blind and want to write creatively, learning to understand how things appear visually is a helpful practice.

Imagination is key to good writing. I don’t mean inventive, but forming a mental picture; what neuro linguistic programmers would call visualisation.

Years ago, I was listening to self-help and motivational speaker Skip Ross who told the story of a business man starting his day by pausing before the picture of a red Ferrari he pinned to his notice board as a means of spurring himself to performing well. The man was only wanting to buy a car that looks similar to the one on the poster, but to his surprise, he ended up buying the same one.

And yes, I hear all you sceptics out there who dismiss this as some old charlatan’s bad trick.

If you want proof of a creative and immersive book that also has visual element (albeit a minor one), pick up “The Story Of My Life” by Helen Keller or John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton was able to see until his thirties and so the visual component in his grandiloquent verses may not be all that surprising, but Keller is a different story.

By writing, I don’t mean dry prose, which anyone can put together flawlessly. Sharpening your senses and using it while writing a scene needs practice and, for a blind person, it needs to be intense.

The urge to write is not just the urge to express oneself, but to re-create something that exists deep down. To me, it’s a picture book with moving elements embedded in them. You open the album with the thick cover and flip through the different phases and ages of your growth. You fix your eyes on one of the pictures that trigger a scene. You are transported to a year nearly 20 years ago, and then you start telling how it felt when your dad walked away without patting you in the back for scoring well in your final exams or getting a medal in your school debate.

You may not be able to see, but developing a deeper visual imagination would help you understand the environment around you better. Sighted people develop the eye for details, while the blind can say with confidence “I can imagine!”

We don’t need a disaster to understand the need for inclusive infrastructure

Tags

, , ,

Whenever I think of inclusive infrastructure, I think of this story which I got from a blind friend during an interview:

What does three blind men talk when they mosey down the footpath on a lazy afternoon?

Well, if they’re from the same organization or industry, it’d be about familiar office politics, of course. Since most of them steer clear of politics themselves, it’d be about what happened between colleague A and B.

It must’ve been something about work, or the charity activity that they do together, that the three blind men were discussing while walking down the footpath of Queen’s Road in Bangalore, which in the eighties and nineties wasn’t as congested as it is today.

So absorbed were they in the conversation that they failed to notice the open manhole. Usually, one of them would sway the white stick wide enough to catch the tip of the manhole’s cement edge. Two of them managed to stray left and avoid a tumble, but it proved dangerous for one. He fell thirty feet down the hole and thrashed helplessly in pain and fear.
Municipal officials brought ladders to bring him out of the manhole that lead directly to the underground stormwater drain. The man escaped with some scratches, sparking mumbles among onlookers that he was lucky not to have broken some bones.

Newspaper reports reveal that Bengaluru city records at least 630 road accidents and 650 fatalities. I don’t have the breakup, but I’m fairly certain that none of the pedestrian accidents involve the blind, who commute long distances to work and home.

Every major city in India is receiving millions of rupees under the smart city project to splurge on roadworks, digitizing traffic signals and building giant elevated traffic corridors. None of these plans seem inclusive to ensure footpaths are straight enough for the blind to walk unhindered or elderly people to step up and down without hurting their arthritic knees.

Moreover, Indian roads are notoriously chaotic with illegal parking, people standing in clusters in all unexpected places and street vendors spreading their wares on paths meant for pedestrians. Traversing these spaces used to be fun when I could see, but I can’t say the same now because I constantly have to walk with the fear that I’d end up hurting myself or, like that blind man, tumbling face down into an open manhole, which isn’t pleasant in many ways.

The obstinate bureaucracy refuses to address these issues despite requests coming from many people. Of course, the challenge about sorting out chaos is you don’t know where to begin and I’m sure they’re as helpless as the common citizens despite holding the leavers to power and the purse strings to public fund.

The problem also is that we talk about an issue when it’s hot enough to occupy the headlines. Right from the rape of a young woman who we symbolized (for our convenience) as Nirbhaya to the recent death of 150 people who plunged hundreds of feet below into the river when the suspension bridge snapped, we find tons of remorse and solutions from experts, but everyone, including people in power, move in search of the next disaster -probably feeling bored about the one in hand.

Infrastructure can be inclusive when authorities meet activists’ half-way down and accommodate at least the most necessary of the accessibility features. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) put some thought process into making the metro train stations accessible, but are all stations consistently accessible? Did they keep it up with every phase of expansion? Did the inclusive process survive with every change in the administration?

These questions are relevant because the focus on inclusion is subjective. One department head won’t be equally interested in inclusivity as the next one, though it still puzzles me why the authorities aren’t making training mandatory for bureaucrats in all departments to make sure their focus on inclusion is the same. Why should an important aspect of building public infrastructure with taxpayer’s money be left to the whims and fancies of a single official?

People with disabilities are also easily satisfied with the low (or no) quality service that we get from our government. Most of us are legitimate taxpayers, the kind of people who turn up at the election booth to fulfil our democratic duty. Each of us have at least five members in our families who’re concerned about us (and vote for anyone who shows interest in inclusive infrastructure and other disable-friendly programmes).

Yet, here we are, still thumping our chests about the disability law the government has passed. If we understand one thing about our system, it’s that mere existence of laws is no guarantee of your rights. This country has plenty of laws, starting from protecting forests to recognizing education as a fundamental right, but most such laws are gathering dust in forgotten files at government offices.

Some of the NGOs and activists fight fearlessly, but we need to sound as one strong, insistent, and high-decibel voice that people in power can’t ignore. If things are to be better, we must monitor infrastructure around us and report it to our local government. If the guy in power isn’t listening, go to his opponent and educate him on the issue and ensure he has enough ammo to blast the incumbent out of power. The next time you visit the office, you find a familiar face who at least can’t feign ignorance.

And yes, it’s life-time work. It’s high time some of us sign up for the heavy lifting.

I had a piece of my own heaven…until the pandemic smashed it into smithereens

Tags

, , , , , ,

Two years ago (or, was it two-and-a-half?), my mornings used to be quiet.

I’d wake up to chirping birds outside my window with temperatures hovering at a shade shy of 20 degree Celsius. I could imagine the thick fog curtaining the street three floors below; the occasional motorbike shattering the lethargic morning silence with its violent roar; the voice of the wastepaper collector asking people to trade old newspapers for a few rupees; and the whistle of the garbage collector forcing people to hurry down the stairways with twisted and tied plastic bags.

Mornings that guaranteed me full consciousness, perfect weather, lots of silence and plenty of time to think and write.

And yes, mornings that my ungrateful self thought as boring and uneventful.

May be god heard that; may be it was my own smug, careless self wishing for interesting disasters. I’m not quite sure what it was, but it seems the pandemic was life’s way of throwing the monkey on my heavenly sandcastle. Now, with each passing year and each passing winter, that life looks more distant, blurred by tears and unplugged, at least momentarily, from consciousness by the immediate issues of survival and pain.

In all, when I think of life before March 2020, the only thing I can say is how one global health disaster has changed my life beyond any recognition.

The dreaded coronavirus has left its brutal impact in all spheres of a persons’ life, as if the way it messed up a person’s health system wasn’t enough.

Some days ago, I was scrolling through the history of my region that once saw a serious battle of Arcot. The Nawab of Arcot was away on a campaign when the British East India Company soldiers captured his fort and made sure he could never return home.

Actually, the pandemic had become my own battle of Arcot. On March 16, 2020, when I was away from my then home to attend a private business with my family, the deadly virus began spreading like wildfire, forcing a sudden lockdown and the opportunity to work from home. It kept locked me out of the place I thought as home, an apartment I bought in 2015 where I lived with contentment. To this very day, it’s gathering dust. Things I left back largely remain the way it was on March 15, 2020. I organized cleaning of the flat twice, but those were months ago.

In these intervening years, I lost my aunt who maintained the apartment and ensured I had warm tea in the morning and carried dinner to my office. Among many good things I did was not to tell her when the food was bland, probably grateful that someone goes to the trouble of preparing something for me when all they were getting in return was a warm corner in a narrow hall.

It has been close to a year and ten months since Aunt Uma had passed. ‘Had things been any different if she had stayed alive?’ I used to ask myself when time had mercy to leave me from the clutches of nursing my own pain or feeling it while watching someone else’s.

Aunt Uma wasn’t a celebrity chef, the superstar facility manager, an intellectual heavyweight who would’ve engaged my boring mind with logic and reasoning. Truth be told, she wasn’t even capable of shielding my barrage of enraged questions about things being kept in undesignated places. She wasn’t even strong enough to stand up to my unkindness in such moments. Yet, her loss had left such a deep dent in me that it still feels unreal.

There’re nights when I wake up all so suddenly and ask myself if she was really gone? ‘Really?’

And at that moment, it wouldn’t matter to me if Aunt Uma’s survival had taken me back to my heavenly home, guaranteed the hot morning tea with the right proportion of milk and sugarless sweetener.

Nothing would’ve mattered to me. Just the assurance that Aunt Uma was right there at the warm corner of the narrow hall. I would’ve rushed to my mother’s room at the other corner and told her that Umakka was alive. “Yes mother…it’s just a nightmare. Thank god it’s a nightmare. She’s there. She’s alive.’

Alas…I can’t say that. When consciousness dawns like dark heat and reality pricks each hole of my skin, I know it. I know that my aunt is not alive. I might find strength to restore many things in my life…things the coronavirus had robbed from me, but I know strongly that I cannot bring my aunt alive.

The system that trains disabled people is stifling and must change!

Tags

, , ,

The first time I spoke aloud my desire to be a journalist was the butterfly-in-

Elephant legs in chain

We’re taught only to survive. Where’s the question of thinking out-of-the-box?

the-stomach moment for me.

It was a drowsy afternoon. Even though college life buzzed with energy, we had far fewer activities in the afternoon. I was sitting with a bunch of friends and, having nothing productive to do, we were talking about what the future held for us. Some of us were blind and some were sighted. And it so happened that only the sighted were bold about what they want to do. Us blind folks were too embarrassed to talk about our future. Or, may be, we weren’t so sure that our plans would be as exciting as being an entrepreneur, a civil services aspirant or a research scholar.

“And what do you think you’re going to do?”

The question was casually tossed at me, probably with the thought that I might not contribute anything exciting. Our sighted friends knew the routine answers the blind folks had about their future: becoming a teacher, musician or land up in a government job that sustained us pretty much for the rest of our lives.

“Oh well, I want to be a journalist.” The declaration was followed by a full second of stupefied silence. I was sure the boys seated around me were thinking I had completely gone off the cliff, but I didn’t care.

“You’re a dreamer,” was one response. “Be realistic,” was another. I had a readymade retort to the second statement: “We create our own reality. We don’t have to live the reality other people create for us.”

Of course, some of them seated around murmured “false bravado,” but I had already scored my point besides stirring awake everyone from the stupa.

If someone had bother to drill me for details –“do you have a plan? Is there a timeline?”- I would’ve buckled because I had no details except the grand statement.

Yet, it wasn’t totally “fake it until you make it” kind of a situation either. I was sincere to the extent that I wanted to do something unconventional for a blind person and determined to put my education to the best use above job security. In short, I had the objective clear and saw journalism as a means of achieving that objective.

When people ask me why I’m not “inspiring” other blind people or those with other disabilities into becoming journalists, my only answer is that the system that shapes them rarely puts the self-belief in them to think for themselves.

The early instructions to the blind people puts emphasis on survival skills than on knowledge. Even when learning the regular subjects, they were told that certain subjects are no-go areas for them such as mathematics, science or engineering. They are regularly told that they should factor in their disability and should be “realistic”.

Think of this: in every stage they’ve been discouraged rather strongly from imagining and dreaming a life for themselves. How can we expect them to be innovative when they live and study in such a stifling environment where they’re constantly told that they’re doing well by barely surviving?

Even assistive technology and computer education are unlikely to change the underlying thought process that their disability prevents them from pursuing certain disciplines.

The system that supports and educates the blind/disabled people therefore needs to change. While teaching them survival skills such as orientation & mobility, personal grooming etc. are important, they should make learning wide ranging including science and math. People who design systems should understand that they can’t act like St. Peter at the pearly gate (or Jaya-Vijaya at guarding the entrance to Vaikuntha). In the guise of being experts, they can no longer afford to decide what the disabled people can or cannot learn. Insulating them from the competitive world, where people succeed or fail depending on performance, would only make them totally unready for competitive and performance-based world of the corporate companies and startups.

Also, talking about employability without changing the system is more like tying the person’s hands and dumping him/her in the ocean.

As a larger society, it’s our responsibility to transform youngsters with disability into a potent force ready for all kinds of challenges. If you want to teach them what they can do and what they can’t, do it by all means. But make sure you don’t discourage them from trying a different life. Look at ways of supporting them.

Do you agree with me? Let me know.

Trusting strangers in public places is a real challenge for a disabled person. Here’s how you can handle it better!

Tags

, , , ,

As a person with blindness, I had always reacted with uncertainty when a stranger held my hand.

Of course, there’re occasions when help would be a relief, particularly in crowded bus sheds, where people tend to rush towards a standing bus and fail to notice even a two-metre-long white stick visible even from a distance. In their haste to catch the bus, they’d nudge or slap the stick out of my hand, leaving me helplessly stranded.

But not all strangers make you comfortable

As I searched for an address in the heart of Chennai city, someone held my hand without talking to me. A whiff of alcohol was wafting from his direction, which immediately triggered panic. Also, I felt his fingers uncomfortably close to my gold ring. He was trying remove it from my left ring finger…or so I thought.

Getting into a bus, putting distance between that person and myself, I was overcome with relief. Because I wouldn’t like to be perceived as an easy prey for muggers, yet, with my blindness, muggers would be bold enough to try snatching my ring or wallet.

But the other, much saner side of me, was chiding me for being unnecessarily paranoid. From my experience of roaming around alone, I knew that alcoholics never stole things or disturbed other people. Yes, you see them ‘list to port’ as they walked or even fall down on the edge of the footpath. But they were barely a threat to others, especially those with disability. In fact, I remember an extremely drunk man holding my hand and beating his chest, a gesture I interpreted as his way of morning my misfortune.

The reality is, as a person with disability, I always had discomfort trusting strangers. But I’d be wary about sweet talkers who could sometimes sound too sugary for my comforts. And even too altruistic. Like this auto-rickshaw driver who gripped my hand and began walking me towards his vehicle in a desperate way to beat the competition, without bothering to ask my permission if he could hold my hand. But all along, he was extolling the pure heartedness of a person with disability and how people like him should consider it their duty to serve us.

When he dropped me home, he was arguing vociferously about a twenty-rupee tip which he said he earned by serving me.

For people with disability, trusting people around them, especially strangers would be a challenge.

Here’re some tips on how people with disability can manage themselves in crowded places.

*Tell the stranger helping you to verbalize their action. If people tell you that they are taking you to the bus shed, a shopping mall or, quite simply, walking you across the road, they should first have your permission and clarity on what you want. Engage them in a conversation. If they don’t listen to you, ask them to leave you alone.

*Make sure they don’t take you away from busy areas, such as in an empty alleyway. Insist that you need to stay in the busy street.

*Keep your mobile phone handy. If you need to dial the police or the nearest friend/relative, you should be able to speed-dial them.

*Don’t hesitate to ask for help from others if the person helping you doesn’t listen to your needs.

*Have a clear plan in terms of how you would like to tackle an awkward situation with a stranger. We all are different personalities in our own right and we each might like to handle the situation in our own way. A plan gives you better control over the situation.

We need to remember that no one can take decision making away from us. So, it’s important we remain assertive, confident and don’t give out nervousness.

Half the battle is in the mind and if we win the mental battle, we win the war.

Inclusive parties are fun…here’s how you can be an ‘inclusive’ host

Tags

, , , ,

There’s always a first for everything. Even party-going has its first, especially if you had lived in India a few decades ago when family or religious events were the only occasions for get-togethers.

But a friend who was young and quite willing to try out new things telephoned a bunch of us with the invitation for a party. I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement about the idea. A party would be more informal, relaxing, and stripped of stiff and awkward ceremonies.

I wasn’t too familiar with his social circle and was quite apprehensive about going to the party. And so, I was quite forthcoming about my needs as a person with blindness. “If you don’t think I’ll be comfortable, let me know. We’ll spare the embarrassment,” I said, deciding to attend the party only after my friend assured, he’d do his best to make me feel at home.

I hailed an autorickshaw to arrive at his doorsteps on a balmy Saturday evening, sniffing at the mixture of sweet incense smoke and masala cooking in some house down the line, and instantly regretted my decision to be at the party. The environment may be relaxing, but I wouldn’t like to be excluded and I wasn’t experienced enough to handle an awkward situation.

On arrival, an elderly gentleman informed me that he was specifically instructed to fetch me from the entrance. Inside the house, my friend greeted me with a bear hug and made sure I was given a juice of some kind which everyone was noisily sipping. The guests formed a circle around my friend and each one regaled the crowd with some joke or funny anecdote. I was seated in a far corner, a few feet away from the circle, and no one asked me to share a joke or anecdote. I felt more like a spectator and was too nervous to insert myself in the conversation. The return ride home was more relieving.

It took several years for me to realise that most people are unaware how to include someone with disability in a party or informal social gathering. Disability wouldn’t matter if you’re vivacious enough to crack a joke, break the ice and melt into a conversation. But the reality is, most people with disability feel like fish out of water in the gathering of able-bodied people. They often worry about constantly asking strangers for help, especially when people are too engaged in a conversation to even notice someone’s discomfort. Moreover, people with disability are comfortable in environments were their needs are understood rather than verbalized.

With environment and lifestyle change, people are open and quite willing to be inclusive in social gatherings.

Here’re a few things you could do:

*Include guest with disability in conversations happening around the table.
*Take the initiative to ice-break. Put them at ease to the extent that they feel comfortable enough to express themselves.

*Ensure minimum accessibility at the physical space

*Ensure space such as tables to keep food plates. If your guest is blind, he/she needs a little orientation on which food is kept where in the plate. The best thing is to imagine the plate to be the dial of a clock and verbally locate the dishes. Example: the curry is in twelve o’clock position, soup in three o’clock etc.

*Ensure you give drinks to people with motor neuron conditions in tumblers they could grip solidly. Glasses can be slippery. If you’re not sure, ask them what would be comfortable.

*Loosely laid floor carpets can obstruct free movement of wheelchairs. So, remove them for the duration of the party. Also, see if you can install temporary handgrips at the toilet for easy use of those on wheelchairs.

*At the food counters, keep placards with the name of the food so that guests with hearing impairments can find out what they are eating, especially when the cuisine is unfamiliar.

Inclusive parties are fun…here’s how you can be an ‘inclusive’ host

Tags

, , , ,

There’s always a first for everything. Even party-going has its first, especially if you had lived in India a few decades ago when family or religious events were the only occasions for get-togethers.

But a friend who was young and quite willing to try out new things telephoned a bunch of us with the invitation for a party. I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement about the idea. A party would be more informal, relaxing, and stripped of stiff and awkward ceremonies.

I wasn’t too familiar with his social circle and was quite apprehensive about going to the party. And so, I was quite forthcoming about my needs as a person with blindness. “If you don’t think I’ll be comfortable, let me know. We’ll spare the embarrassment,” I said, deciding to attend the party only after my friend assured, he’d do his best to make me feel at home.

I hailed an autorickshaw to arrive at his doorsteps on a balmy Saturday evening, sniffing at the mixture of sweet incense smoke and masala cooking in some house down the line, and instantly regretted my decision to be at the party. The environment may be relaxing, but I wouldn’t like to be excluded and I wasn’t experienced enough to handle an awkward situation.

On arrival, an elderly gentleman informed me that he was specifically instructed to fetch me from the entrance. Inside the house, my friend greeted me with a bear hug and made sure I was given a juice of some kind which everyone was noisily sipping. The guests formed a circle around my friend and each one regaled the crowd with some joke or funny anecdote. I was seated in a far corner, a few feet away from the circle, and no one asked me to share a joke or anecdote. I felt more like a spectator and was too nervous to insert myself in the conversation. The return ride home was more relieving.

It took several years for me to realise that most people are unaware how to include someone with disability in a party or informal social gathering. Disability wouldn’t matter if you’re vivacious enough to crack a joke, break the ice and melt into a conversation. But the reality is, most people with disability feel like fish out of water in the gathering of able-bodied people. They often worry about constantly asking strangers for help, especially when people are too engaged in a conversation to even notice someone’s discomfort. Moreover, people with disability are comfortable in environments were their needs are understood rather than verbalized.

With environment and lifestyle change, people are open and quite willing to be inclusive in social gatherings.

Here’re a few things you could do:

*Include guest with disability in conversations happening around the table.
*Take the initiative to ice-break. Put them at ease to the extent that they feel comfortable enough to express themselves.

*Ensure minimum accessibility at the physical space

*Ensure space such as tables to keep food plates. If your guest is blind, he/she needs a little orientation on which food is kept where in the plate. The best thing is to imagine the plate to be the dial of a clock and verbally locate the dishes. Example: the curry is in twelve o’clock position, soup in three o’clock etc.

*Ensure you give drinks to people with motor neuron conditions in tumblers they could grip solidly. Glasses can be slippery. If you’re not sure, ask them what would be comfortable.

*Loosely laid floor carpets can obstruct free movement of wheelchairs. So, remove them for the duration of the party. Also, see if you can install temporary handgrips at the toilet for easy use of those on wheelchairs.

*At the food counters, keep placards with the name of the food so that guests with hearing impairments can find out what they are eating, especially when the cuisine is unfamiliar.

In 25 years of being a professional with disability, I’ve learnt this: don’t afraid to fail

Tags

, , , ,

Representative image of a computer

The most annoying thing about being blind is that you don’t find shortcuts. Because you don’t have any. You either learn things the hard way or fall by the wayside, which is not an option…not at least for me.

My mind returns to the present. The laptop with the glowing screen on the table, fingers hovering over the keys to translate the precise thought that forms in my head, the headset that allows me to understand what’s on the screen, as a way of compensating for my blinded eyes.

This has been the way I sit before the PC or laptop for twenty-five years now. Only difference is that I have a screen reader software which I didn’t have in 1997. Someone gave me a 486 system, the most basic machine you’d find those days with Windows 95 crawling in its RAM like an earthworm wriggling out of the soil. I then began freelancing for newspapers and bought a Celeron system on an installment basis. I couldn’t afford the screen reader back then, which meant I had to remember the steps to open the MS Word programme and type what’s in my mind. The only luxury I had was familiarity with the QWERTY keyboard, which I learnt by practicing typing on an unyieldingly hard and rusty Remington machine.

For all practical purposes, it never felt different without a screen reader; the only crucial difference is that you’re absolutely clueless about what you’re doing. You’ve to assume that when you press the windows key plus R and type winword, the empty word document would open and then you’d type into it. The problem with that process was that you wouldn’t know if a dialogue box had opened and if you should press escape key to continue typing. Working the keys with the dialogue box on would mean you won’t have even a word typed in.

Sometimes, I’d finish typing 700 words or more and then would learn that not a single word I typed was on the screen. And I’d be lucky if I failed to get the article on the word doc the second time. My city was prone to power failures and, despite the wonder machine called Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) that was supposed to keep the machine on until you shut it down, the system would die even before I could save the file.

I’d be lying if I say that it didn’t frustrate me. But I guess I was mentally prepared to type the whole article one more time and mentally compose the lines, realizing, to my delight, that I was refining the sentences even as they formed. And therefore, when I got the typing process right, I’d see the article in its complete state with perfect sentences, just the way I wanted it.

And, in these twenty-five years, I’d get inside a building for the first time, not knowing if I should walk straight or turn. My white cane would hit and rattle a table with decorative articles and I’d sometimes end up hugging a bonsai plant, missing the turn to the left. If I felt embarrassed in the early days, I realized that people who designed the space must be far more embarrassed because of their obvious ignorance about accessible indoor spaces.

I’ve accessed perhaps the most challenging spaces you could imagine because quitting wasn’t a choice; quitting was never a choice. People like me try, lose, sometimes even fall face-down, get up, brush off and move on.

More often than not, those of us with disability fail. But it’s a good thing because when we’re failing, we’re still in the game. We know we’ll get another chance to try, with better preparation, more information and bolstered confidence. There’s nothing better to do. So we try. And for all that trying, we become better at a skill or a life hack.

What I’ve described isn’t unique to disabled people. If I don’t believe that, I won’t be writing this blog.

As human beings, we all have this almost magical ability to learn and get better. But the most important qualification to enter the University of Adversity is a stronger gut for failure.

Most of us are afraid of failure. We’re worried that it exposes us as imposters or incompetent. But the reality is that we fail regularly and only by failing we get better at something. I read somewhere that Michael Jordan failed nine thousand shots, lost three-hundred games and missed out on twenty-three winning shots before becoming the most successful NBA star ever.

What stops us from realizing our dream is fear…that we’re not good enough and we can never be like someone else.

Get rid of this fear and you’ll be unstoppable.

How disabled people can be innovative in managing old age? 🤖 🔥

Tags

, , , ,

It’s not a pleasant thing to stand before the mirror. Not in April. Especially not in the sea-facing city of Chennai, where you still feel wet after meticulously drying up getting off the shower stall. Heat and humidity in this infernal city is so bad that you’ll begin to sweat the moment you get out of shower.

Standing before the mirror is a ritual for someone who isn’t blind by birth. Only now, I imagine how my face must’ve changed in the three decades since becoming blind.

Do I choke about not actually seeing the mirror?

Sometimes I find a lump in my throat thinking about small pleasures vision afforded me so many years ago, but a combination of touch and imagination compensates the inability to see.

In a way, I’m not too unhappy about the pleasure of adjusting the vermilion dot or making sure there isn’t an extra coat of talcum powder. Because I’m sure the face I might see would show a significantly older man than the energetic teenager with a thin film of a mustache.

As such, getting older isn’t my favourite musing. It holds such a terror that I sometimes find a way to distract myself from it. You might call it a pathetic attempt to escape from reality, something I’d readily admit without shame, but you won’t fault me for it because even if you’re able-bodied, I’m sure you’re not so thrilled about getting old.

The way old age frailties would complicate disability is enough to send a chil down the spine and its eventual inevitability would sober you up for days together.

Think of this: as a younger blind man, if I fall over something and sprawl on the ground face-down, I’d get up, brush off and move on. Even the worst kind of accidents that usually happen because I’m blindsided,   (pun intended 😊) while walking down a usually clear pathway, I’d mostly have a scratch here or a twist there.

For the life of me, I’m unable to imagine myself as a septuagenarian swinging his white-stick to the eatery round the corner for breakfast 😓. Because I don’t trust the infrastructure in this city (or any city), which is only imagined as giant flyovers and plenty of cars but not in terms of pedestrian-friendly pavements. In fact, so many giant square tiles are (usually) missing from the pavements that you’d almost end up doing a cross between poll vault and steeple chase and would probably end up holding an awkwardly bent white stick.

Ok…I admit to be a little over-dramatic because these days you can order food from the restaurant by opening the mobile app and paying with your digital wallet. That’s precisely how I’ve been surviving for the past two years, but it’s unlikely to keep you at home round the clock, throughout the year.

Then, there’s the issue of handling an almost total loneliness. It’s easy now to be alone because you’ve people at a phone call away, either for help or for an afternoon chat…I wouldn’t like to go too far down this path because this’ll only get progressively depressing.

So what can I, or people with disability like me, can do?

First of, keep exploring technology and have them ready for deployment.

I keep reading a truckload of contents spreading fear and uncertainties about Artificial Intelligence (AI). But if you’ve a disability, you’ll only be too glad to have an invisible presence in your house that monitors your vital health parameters and alerts your physician if things were to go south. Meanwhile, a bunch of robots can cook and clean for you. I don’t think they’ll be such great intellectual company, but you know the world isn’t perfect. 🤷

Between AI and robotics, you should be able to maintain a farily decent quality of life, especially if you’re active enough to stop wasting away too early or too badly.

If you’re a caregiver of someone with a mental or developmental challenge, start putting together the funds and the technology to help them manage their lives fairly better.

A bunch of technology can hardly compensate the need for human bonding or to safeguard against criminals (which, come to think of it, can also be managed between AI and robotics). So the one thing that you as a person with disability should do is to widen your social connectivity.

Use social media to find friends and companions. Now, I’m not a big advocate of marrying late, but if that works for you then you should do it enthusiastically by fully considering challenges right from moving places to finding spaces that could be customized to support your disability.

And if you’re working or running successful businesses, start saving for old age. Technology may come with a reasonable price tag, but you still need substantial money to tailor it to your requirement. Follow developments in latest technology, especially the way they’re deployed across the globe, companies making products out of them and how or where they’re sold.

Experiment with technology and be imaginative in using them. Even if they’re not specifically applied to your challenge, see if you can do something with them to solve a problem or two. Like how people use subtitles to watch movies, although subtitles were originally used for deaf people to watch movies.

You may have family or children, but you know you can’t fully depend on them for total comfort. With technology, you’ll actually be doing them a favour by putting together the ecosystem to take care of yourself.

Yes, old age may be scary for people with disability, but let’s blend Goodbye Mr. Chips with Brave New World to create a self-dependent ecosystem.

Will it actually work? Right now it works in parts, but no one has actually put a system together to try if it could be made entirely self-reliant.

Aside

How disabled people can be innovative in managing old age? 🤖 🔥

Tags

, , , ,

It’s not a pleasant thing to stand before the mirror. Not in April. Especially not in the sea-facing city of Chennai, where you still feel wet after meticulously drying up getting off the shower stall. Heat and humidity in this infernal city is so bad that you’ll begin to sweat the moment you get out of shower.

Standing before the mirror is a ritual for someone who isn’t blind by birth. Only now, I imagine how my face must’ve changed in the three decades since becoming blind.

Do I choke about not actually seeing the mirror?

Sometimes I find a lump in my throat thinking about small pleasures vision afforded me so many years ago, but a combination of touch and imagination compensates the inability to see.

In a way, I’m not too unhappy about the pleasure of adjusting the vermilion dot or making sure there isn’t an extra coat of talcum powder. Because I’m sure the face I might see would show a significantly older man than the energetic teenager with a thin film of a mustache.

As such, getting older isn’t my favourite musing. It holds such a terror that I sometimes find a way to distract myself from it. You might call it a pathetic attempt to escape from reality, something I’d readily admit without shame, but you won’t fault me for it because even if you’re able-bodied, I’m sure you’re not so thrilled about getting old.

The way old age frailties would complicate disability is enough to send a chil down the spine and its eventual inevitability would sober you up for days together.

Think of this: as a younger blind man, if I fall over something and sprawl on the ground face-down, I’d get up, brush off and move on. Even the worst kind of accidents that usually happen because I’m blindsided, (pun intended 😊) while walking down a usually clear pathway, I’d mostly have a scratch here or a twist there.

For the life of me, I’m unable to imagine myself as a septuagenarian swinging his white-stick to the eatery round the corner for breakfast 😓. Because I don’t trust the infrastructure in this city (or any city), which is only imagined as giant flyovers and plenty of cars but not in terms of pedestrian-friendly pavements. In fact, so many giant square tiles are (usually) missing from the pavements that you’d almost end up doing a cross between poll vault and steeple chase and would probably end up holding an awkwardly bent white stick.

Ok…I admit to be a little over-dramatic because these days you can order food from the restaurant by opening the mobile app and paying with your digital wallet. That’s precisely how I’ve been surviving for the past two years, but it’s unlikely to keep you at home round the clock, throughout the year.

Then, there’s the issue of handling an almost total loneliness. It’s easy now to be alone because you’ve people at a phone call away, either for help or for an afternoon chat…I wouldn’t like to go too far down this path because this’ll only get progressively depressing.

So what can I, or people with disability like me, can do?

First of, keep exploring technology and have them ready for deployment.

I keep reading a truckload of contents spreading fear and uncertainties about Artificial Intelligence (AI). But if you’ve a disability, you’ll only be too glad to have an invisible presence in your house that monitors your vital health parameters and alerts your physician if things were to go south. Meanwhile, a bunch of robots can cook and clean for you. I don’t think they’ll be such great intellectual company, but you know the world isn’t perfect. 🤷

Between AI and robotics, you should be able to maintain a farily decent quality of life, especially if you’re active enough to stop wasting away too early or too badly.

If you’re a caregiver of someone with a mental or developmental challenge, start putting together the funds and the technology to help them manage their lives fairly better.

A bunch of technology can hardly compensate the need for human bonding or to safeguard against criminals (which, come to think of it, can also be managed between AI or robotics). So the one thing that you as a person with disability should do is to widen your social connectivity.

Use social media to find friends and companions. Now, I’m not a big advocate of marrying late, but if that works for you then you should do it enthusiastically by fully considering challenges right from moving places to finding spaces that could be customized to support your disability.

And if you’re working or running successful businesses, start saving for old age. Technology may come with a reasonable price tag, but you still need substantial money to tailor it to your requirement. Follow developments in latest technology, especially the way they’re deployed across the globe, companies making products out of them and how or where they’re sold.

Experiment with technology and be imaginative in using them. Even if they’re not specifically applied to your challenge, see if you can do something with them to solve a problem or two. Like how people use subtitles to watch movies, although subtitles were originally used for deaf people to watch movies.

You may have family or children, but you know you can’t fully depend on them for total comfort. With technology, you’ll actually be doing them a favour by putting together the ecosystem to take care of yourself.

Yes, old age may be scary for people with disability, but let’s blend Goodbye Mr. Chips with Brave New World to create a self-dependent ecosystem.

Will it actually work?

Right now it works in parts, but no one has actually put a system together to try if it could be made entirely self-reliant.

For people with disability, getting in touch with inner child is a wonderful therapy

Tags

, , , , ,

People ask me whether not seeing the world around, especially after having seen till about 17 years, is painful.

And I’ve a very simple answer to them: ‘when did I stop seeing?’

This may sound weird to some people, but here’s the scientific truth: the part of your brain responsible for vision never really stops seeing, especially if you’ve suffered gradual vision loss. It always searches for visual cues, remembers colours, searches for the numerous pictures stoed away in the memory bank to describe an appropriate situation, tries to picture facial expressions especially when you read them in a story. For example “crumpled face” is the one you often associate with someone in pain or crying for some reason. So, I haven’t stopoped seeing in that sense.

How does it happen?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for the past 30 years of my life as a blind man and only recently did I actually stumble on the answer.

The inner child.

I can imagine you shaking your head saying “no way!”

I won’t be surprised if you think I’ve lost a marble or two upstairs! 🙂

If you were to look in the mirror and imagine yourself to be a mere fetus in your mother’s womb so long ago, it’d appear far-fetched. But it was real. You were a fetus once.

Also true is the fact that you’ve grown from a mere child, when probably all the habits that makes you unique now had been formed. This only indicates that you’ve been in touch with your childhood even when you grow up. In some sense, you remain the core of that child you were so many years ago; the child that likes to run across the busy street with gleeful abandon. Only that the adult applies the break and says ‘don’t be so crazy.’

Yet, you still enjoy the remnants of childhood such as licking the softy cone with the tongue dancing like a snake. And you truly turn that child when you laugh dropping your guard. These things happen no matter what your age is.

As for me, I go back to my childhood days almost forgetful of my blindness and think as how I was. Especially the days when I mounted the saddle of a rickety, rusty bicycle in my hometown and scared the hell out of people walking on the sidewalk.

And I believe getting in touch with your inner child, that core being which still acts like how you were as a child, helps you break free of your disability (in case your disability appears like a limitation to you).

Even your disability is by birth, think of the childhood days when you did something completely disregarding of it! May be someone asked you to sit behind them on a bicycle, may be they made you sit next to a mango tree and made you throw stones on the low-hanging fruits. May be, you danced with your friends, as I did with a bunch of girls so long ago for a song which they practiced for their school annual cultural programme, throwing away my eyeglasses in total disregard for the blurry vision.

Recalling those days, meditating on them and going back will help you understand the free spirit, and how you can break free from limitations of your disability.

Now I can hear the words “childhood trauma” and how returning to childhood could trigger the pain you’ve suffered.

My suggestion is to work with your therapist and understand how best you can filter the true essence of a liberated spirit as a child. You can get the trauma cured by talking to that child, getting in a cuddle, and telling him/her that he’s terrific the way he is and doesn’t need anything to win other’s approval. In fact, you can go right ahead and tell him that he/she doesn’t need anyone’s approval for anything. Ask him to get on his feet and run to that mango tree or dancing girls. I’m sure he’ll discover himself and help you discover you.

Even if you aren’t a person with disability, breaking free from any self-limiting thought is possible by getting in touch with your free spirit. Spend ten minutes every day to close your eyes, recall the happiest day of your childhood and relive the sensations. It’ll do a world of wonders to you.

So, here’s toasting for your fearless, happy and free-spirited inner child.

*COMING SOON: Want to learn the art of building audience? I’ve been doing it for four years and am sending this blog to more than 4,000 people. I’m putting together a webinar that I’m very eager to teach. But only if you’re interested. How to have 1,000 people reading your blog, signing up your newsletter or…buying your course. It’s good relationship and a very good business!

Want to learn? Sign up here!

https://subramani-lakshmi.ck.page/5b9c5dddf9