Between pity and heroism: Disabled or Differently-abled?
Say it irony, humour, satire or ‘religiously-sympathetic’ attitude shown towards our fellow human beings, when they (fellow human beings), not the ‘homo erectus’ or ‘homo habilis’, try to intermingle with ‘homo sapiens’ (us) to shed the burden which we often take as a contribution in ‘nation’ building process.
It might be irony if you have an ‘eyes-shut-sympathy’ walk in favour of a visually impaired fellow human being.
It might be humour or satire if you guide a visually impaired person, with a bamboozling voice, while sitting in ‘stuck-in-bench’ position leisurely. Finally, it might be religiously-sympathetic attitude if you jump out of the bench after seeing a visually impaired person to lead him/her to the said destination.
Consider this. Blade Runner Oscar Pistorious, a double-leg amputee, participated in both Olympics and Paraolympics in 2012 and could outnumber his abled counterparts on race track.
Now, consider this, a person with only 10 per cent vision in left and 20 per cent in right eye masters archery and sets a record straight. This might sound that the person has grown to a ‘supernatural’ entity! In fact, he was Im Dong Hyun, a Korean archer, who earned his team a bronze in 2012 games.
Further, if not contend with these, the achievements of differently-abled persons, in sports specially, can be traced back to 1950s. For instance, George Eyser bagged six medals in a single day in 1904 Olympics, including three golds in rope climbing.
Coming home, Youmna, a visually impaired student from Karachi University, graduated in IT. Ali Tareen, same as Youmna, currently pursues his MPhil in Mass Communication after his Masters. Zahid Abdullah is not an exception either. He is the Federal Information commissioner.
Does this mean these people possess superpowers? No, in reality, with ‘supernatural lens’ we tend to focus on disabilities of the persons instead of sensing the ability they (the disabled persons) retain. Furthermore, if we talk about the solution to include — or at least pretend them to be ‘friendly-social beings’ — the disabled in ‘social’ courtyard, media might be considered to be a panacea or a ‘twitch’ to the boulder of sympathy and pity.
But, often dangling between two stereotyped terms, the differently-abled (disabled, if you feel more contend with it) persons swing between ‘heroism’ at top and ‘pity’ at the lowest end. Not only is this viewing lens used by the society to see the ‘differently-able’ persons, this draws the myopic sight of the media as well.
Apart from societal attitude often based on ‘pity’ towards differently-able persons, media are affected by a basic flaw in highlighting issues related to some specific segments of the society. For instance, the concept of ‘news sense’ is based on a basic element which is when an ordinary person is involved in an extra ordinary work or an extra ordinary person is involved in an ordinary work.
Interestingly, whether media have ‘news sense’ remains questionable in terms of giving space to the issues related to people with disabilities. The ‘news sense’ reduces to pity or heroism when the focus of the breaking news is a person with disability. The gloomy music along ‘news package’ evokes the emotion of pity and sadness instead of making the viewer aware of the issue.
With a simple note, media do not highlight the issues related to disabled persons, right? Government enacted ‘Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance in 1981’. Old enough! KPK and Punjab have adopted (copied) the Ordinance and Sindh came with its own law in 2014. Sindh Assembly also passed a bill ‘Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Bill’ in 2018.
Frankly saying, the world is on the path to change the infrastructure for the sake of persons with disabilities to facilitate them to be a part of nation building. But, I took my friend Ali, my visually impaired fellow ‘human being’, to 3rd floor of the administration building to complete his admission forms and process of getting him enrolled, because the office of the ‘officer’ to ‘facilitate’ the PWDs in university was at 3rd floor.
The author is an Assistant Editor at Balochistan Voices.