Grandma's Tales

December 18, 2006

My other Avtaar 4 Thanks for those very valid responses!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:44 pm
  1. Saw an article on Wired on this type of technology. Your readers will be able to relate to the context of this story very well.
    Comment by Mojo
    2. “…..Mr. Jyotindra Mehta, who is blind.” Should we have said visually challenged? What is your take on proper usage?
    Comment by Rajesh Kumar
    Thanks a million Mojo, for that URL. I’ll certainly spread the word around about this software.
    But I was making another point. I sincerely wish we could have an Indian version of JAWS software. We need it for two major reasons.
    [1] In JAWS, the reader is an American. Not many people in India can follow the American accent. A bright 10-year-old who used to visit our Internet Cafe complained of this. He has very low vision and thoroughly enjoyed browsing the Internet when we taught him how to use the software. But he needed help simply because he couldn’t follow the commands. Accent-free speech would have certainly helped him.
    [2] The cost. A lot of visually-impaired people in India are poor. If JAWS were made available at a nominal cost, Internet Cafes all over the country could be persuaded to install it in one computer at least. Imagine the freedom that would give our friends who cannot see! The software now costs around Rs. 50,000. Sigh!

It would be a great day if someone came up with a cheaper version. All of you geeks out there, want to think about it?

Now to Rajesh.
Disability is something we accept. We need to, we cannot live in perpetual denial. You can’t hear, you can’t hear. There is no wishing it away. (All right, go for a cochlear implant). And there is no reason to sit and mourn about it. All of us are disabled in some way. Disbility is part of the diversity in any society. Disabled people simply do things differently. A person who cannot see does not write down a telephone number. He memorises it. Or writes it in dots. A hearing-impaired person uses a different language. He signs it with fingers and body language. Have you ever seen people signing? It’s extremely creative!

We don’t use the word “challenged”. We don’t think being blind or deaf is a challenge, at least it should not be. In many places in the world, it is not a challenge at all. Do search the Net to find out what people with disabilities are doing. In California and Denver, places I visit often, disabled people live totally independent lives. They have guide dogs to help them. Physical access to streets and buildings is a given. You press a button, the “walk” sign comes on and you cross the road. There are elaborate signs to help the hearing-impaired. There are curb cuts, ramps and guard rails to help those who have difficulty walking. In Denver, in the new area Stapleton, the curb cuts are tactile. A blind person would at once know he is walking into the street. I hear in most places there are strict building codes.

They understand the fact that a society that excludes disabled people also excludes pregnant women, women with small kids, the elderly and those who are temporarily disabled. That it is important for everyone to be able to live with dignity.

We don’t want life to be a challenge to people with disabilties. For that we have to make everything inclusive, accessible. Our buses cannot be made for people who are Olympic athletes. Roads cannot be laid – or left unlaid – for high-jumpers. Railway stations (visit the MRTS station at Mylapore) cannot be constructed for mountain climbers alone. The promenade on the beach is one foot high at all places. A lot of old people have to be helped to get on it. Whom are they meant for?

In many places in this country, the Disability Commissioner’s office is on the first floor and the buildings do not have an elevator. How many movie halls have ramps and guard rails? How about schools and colleges? Have you been to the Dollar store, Rajesh? It has 17 steps. I won’t be able to climb them in a couple of years! Don’t people with disabilities have a right to do their own shopping?

The problem is not the label, Rajesh. It is how the society looks at them. Disabled people are people first, with the same potential as any of us. Given the accommodation, there is nothing they cannot do. All it takes is an open mind. All they ever need is a level playing field. Just make everything inclusive, starting with attitude.

We say “hearing-impaired” or “visually-impaired” because not all of them are totally deaf or totally blind. There are degrees of these disabilities. Such terms are a mere clarification. If a person is blind, we just say he is blind. There is no shame in being blind, just as there is no stigma to being HIV positive.



  1. :o)
    no elaborate comments from me on this one!

    you know well enough i agree with every word you said.

    Comment by Nitin Goyal — December 20, 2006 @ 4:57 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Nitin. Don’t forget, you are my guru!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — December 20, 2006 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

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