I cannot pretend to know what it is to be disabled. I can also say with conviction that disabled people have not only their disability to cope up with, but also an entire world that treats them differently.
In the US, it is against law to discriminate against disabled people. Disabled people get access to all public installations, outdoor facilities, transportation facilities just as well as normal people do. Disabled people get their reserved parking spots and many other considerations that help them cope up with life. Being disabled-friendly is not just for utilities, but also discretionary facilities — so if you went to a theme-park and wanted to take a roller-coaster ride, you’d still have wheelchair access all the way to the launch ramp. The disabled do not need the sympathy of anyone, because they have it well. Yet, they are still generally collectively addressed as disabled or handicapped. What’s in a name, right?
Some 10 years ago, I heard about Shakti Foundation from Chennai, India — whose flagship project (dubbed Project Ramp) had to do with installing ramps (for wheelchair access) in existing buildings and advocating/ lobbying for newer installations to be disabled friendly — wheelchair access, disabled-friendly restrooms, reserved parking spots — most of which continue to be absent even in recent-day buildings. Over these last 10 years, I believe they have had some success, but India is still very backward when it comes to providing equal treatment for disabled.
Whether it is India or America, providing equal opportunities to disabled people doesn’t happen overnight — decades of lobbying, policy-making, constitutionalizing has to happen before anything useful can be done. Yet, I find very disturbing to see India not doing anything on these lines. Instead, they decided to invent new names by which these disabled people should be addressed — alternatively abled, differently abled, physically challenged, mentally challenged and many many descriptions — which seek to do nothing to the quality of life of a disabled person, but insult him further by creating these descriptions which mean nothing to them.
I have heard people say anti-discrimination (especially racial) in US is lip-service, but I think India is next to none when it comes to providing lip-service when it comes to fundamental human rights, disabled or not.
PS: I was seeing a Tamil program where they used a word “மாற்றுத்திறனாளிகள்”. That is what triggered this post.