My recent and the first tour to the US opened my eyes to a whole new world which was so fantastically friendly for the differently-abled. I wonder why we in India cannot make it the same! It is not so much about the economy or the wealth a nation has. I am sure it has more to do with the culture itself — with the way we think and look towards the differently-abled.
Nearly everyone I crossed on the streets of America – in the shops, on the ship, in the desert — everywhere — had the same regard for the disabled and gave way for priority access to them at the cost of waiting a little more for their turn. It was one of the most humbling experiences in my life.
I am thankful to all those people for the courtesy they extended and made my wheelchair-bound mother feel equal in every way.
It was the tourist season at the time when we were there and therefore many times we were part of large groups at entry and exit points of tourist spots. People from all over the world were there and yet everyone was polite to the differently-abled and extended a helping hand whenever they felt that someone requires assistance.
I feel sad to see the state of things at home, in my country. We have somehow forgotten our basic culture of being courteous and to respect everyone.
The attitude towards this small group of society (of the differently-abled) is of neglect, ignorance, and indifference. Shameful to say the least! While towns are turning into cities, businesses are willing to spend millions on lavish decor and swanky lifts but not on creating ramps and easy access for the differently-abled in their offices, shops, or malls.
It is nearly impossible for a differently-abled or a wheelchair-bound to navigate in India – we do not have proper pavements, roads are uneven, there is absolutely no way they can cross a road and get onto a pavement safely (we do not have those wheelchair ramps on any traffic light), most malls and shops have stairs at the entrance as the initial access point, and certainly no one wants to wait or give way to the differently-abled. In fact, most people take advantage of the slow speed of such a lot and run ahead of them to save their spot. That’s sheer apathy in action.
I am not sure how we Indians will ever change and imbibe empathy. I am not even sure how to make my countrymen understand the importance of being nice and being considerate towards the differently-abled. A minuscule percentage of people/not-for-profit organizations work towards helping the differently-abled but no one ever demands an equal place for them, an equal infrastructure for them. The efforts are clearly unable to move the needle. All of them, including the state governments, seem to be busy attaining something except cleanliness, hygiene, health, quality of life, ease of access, and empathy.
The difference between us and America is that there it is a law to create ease of access for the differently-abled and that law applies to governments, shop owners, infrastructure agencies who build roads, hospitality industry, everyone. So every service is meant first for the differently-abled and then made available for the able folks. The key is – the law is enforced to the core. Honestly. The intent is to make everyone in society feel equal and safe and nearly everyone works towards it, together.
Will any government in India ever be able to enforce such a law and lead that change? Will my people ever realise what society they are creating by choosing apathy over empathy? I love my country and I wish that someday this world of mine becomes equally safe and accessible for the differently-abled.