This year, the United Nations International Day Of Persons With Disabilities theme is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” The necessity to realise and inspire the abilities of disabled people is essential in reducing the widening gap of discrimination that the post-Covid-19 world may bring. Above all, disabled people can go a long way as leaders and contributors in developing a more sustainable world.
By Sudeepa Roy
“I urge all countries to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, increase accessibility, and dismantle legal, social, economic and other barriers with the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations”.
Disability calls for immense determination, acceptance and patience. In this world, we often encounter people who are deprived of complete physical or mental abilities by birth or through predisposition to body ailments, traumatic accidents, or age. Most of the time, we focus on their disability and ignore the amazing abilities they possess. We forget that disabled people too wish to be recognised more for their “ability” rather than their “disability”.
A few years back, when life was normal, free from the limitations of the Covid pandemic, I was part of a Youth Association in Malaysia (YMCA) and occasionally participated in voluntary activities for the community around. One such activity involved a community service to help blind people and prevent the tragedy of avoidable blindness through the Malaysian Association for the Blind. It was then I met Kelly for the first time. Kelly was from the Philippines and was in her 30’s. Darkness marked her as disabled since her birth. She was born prematurely and registered blind, with no sight in her right eye and only a small amount of peripheral vision in her left eye. In this context, Kelly hardly knew the power of physical vision. However, she was all determined to ford through this darkness and embrace a life full of vim and vigour. She faced challenges from the disability at every step of her life, but her efforts remained dauntless.
While we lent a helping hand to the blind, Kelly’s participation reflected her dauntless spirit and indomitable goodwill amidst many barriers. Every weekend we (a group of YMCA members) used to strum together on the Ukulele as part of a rehearsal program for the blind community. Kelly’s skills in playing the instrument would leave us stunned. She could never see the bridges or the strings of the musical instrument, but she was capable of striking every note in the instrument to a T. Music was innate in Kelly through her strong listening power. Additionally, she mastered it out by reading and practising tedious Braille music. After the rehearsal, Kelly would often strum her heart out through the instrument’s strings, every time to leave us bewildered in leaps and bounds. Kelly was a miracle musician. We would join in her spirit of happiness by clapping and singing around, which we would miss otherwise in our world full of light. She was a living inspiration. With every passing day, we realised how little we were in terms of living compared to Kelly. Our curiosity would often result in hours of discussion on her childhood, schooling and music. Kelly would very often say her music helped her cope with her blindness. She managed them all in her self-discovered ways and external supplementary support to grow up to an individual where she did not have to depend on others for a living—music became her profession. She was full of gratitude to everyone who supported her and helped her in becoming a successful musician. Often, Kelly would make me remember the brilliant blind musicians such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Andrea Bocelli, who long caused people to wonder if there is a link between music and blindness.
Every moment with Kelly made us realise that our love, company and time were more important to her than a helping hand. She very often felt lonely as her disability isolated her from the rest of the world. Despite the compelling constraints, she was ever willing to support others. As empathetic as she could be, Kelly was more efficient in connecting with blind people than us, perhaps due to her understanding of their everyday obstacles. She had more efficient ways of communicating with them. What we failed to perceive from the members of the blind community in many instances, Kelly understood them well. She was our guiding star.
United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 3rd December as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. First launched in 1992, the event marks nearly three decades of meaningful change for the disabled community. It aims to create real opportunities for people with disabilities through empowerment by investing in jobs, health, education, nutrition and social protection for disabled people. As we celebrate the 29th International Day of Disabled Person this year, my mind goes out to know how life has been for Kelly in this pandemic era. With no knowledge about her current whereabouts other than her empowering abilities, my heart says she will conquer it all wherever she is, for she has learned to deal with the hardest acuteness of living in the dark.
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Sudeepa hails from North-east India and settled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She has a masters in Life Science from Assam University and holds an HR-management diploma from IMT, Ghaziabad. She has worked in management and business development sectors.