Freedom from attitudinal bias: Chronicles of a Disabled Woman

Debarati Sen

It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me”. (Hellen Keller) Since times immemorial people with disabilities have been a subjugated group. They have always been stigmatized and marginalized by the so-called abled society and are subjected to preposterous treatments that include social inequality and stratification. There has been a significantly long and disturbing history of oppression and attitudinal bias against disabled people which continues even till the present day.

Lennard J Davis says the problem is not the person with disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the “problem” of the disabled person. The problems further enhance when the disabled individual is a woman. Disabled women are doubly marginalized by this overtly opinionated society. The physical and attitudinal obstacles faced by a disabled woman are greater in degree than that faced by a disabled man. The word freedom has multifaceted meanings to every individual. Everyone has their perception of being free. Some seek physical freedom from claustrophobic ambiances while others seek freedom from the claustrophobia of toxic people who are always prepared to castigate others with their opinionated slurs, pitying looks, and scathing sarcasm. A woman suffering from any kind of disability deserves an
equal amount of dignity and opportunity as any other human being. However, the repulsive attitude that she receives from society makes her suffer from a sense of self-revulsion. As a result, she suspends her life in hateful abeyance. It often pushes her to the brink of extreme depression and scathes her self-esteem for life, as Fanon says, “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” My sister who is 38 years old suffers from a spinal injury and as a result, has been rendered physically disabled for life since she was 27. While having a word with her what I perceive is that she seeks freedom from such opinionated people who believe disability is an individual anomaly. She believes disabled people are more scathed by cultural and societal barriers than by their physical or cognitive limitations. She has been working in a school as an Assistant Teacher for almost 15 years and she has never let her limited physical ability act as an impediment in her work. However, she feels she is still treated with bias when it comes to dividing workload with her other colleagues. The administration of her school treats her with pity for her ‘condition’, while there are others who doubt her capability as a teacher. Being viewed through
such a prism of prejudice is an assault on her dignity and her dedication towards her profession.

While quoting Stevie Wonder she says, “It is worth remembering that abled does not mean enabled, disabled does not mean less abled. A little clemency and benevolence can help people with special needs walk a long way in the path of life. This Independence day let us resolve to inculcate the concept of an inclusive society where people irrespective of their gender and their physical or mental wellbeing will be wholeheartedly accepted by others. Thus, the word freedom for a specially-abled person lies in not addressing them as disabled and accommodating their differences within our daily lives.

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