The Divinity Of Disability

The Divinity Of Disability January 27, 2016

Some well meaning people, such as Prime Minister Narenda Modi, have suggested that people with disabilities should be viewed as special.

I understand the idea behind wanting people to view disability as a kind of divine gift instead of a curse, to claim that people with disabilities are special, elevated, have something to teach the rest of us about life. But that attitude is actually very patronizing and is too easily used to dismiss what people with disabilities actually need: access.

They don’t want to be special. They want to be treated as equals.

They are people just like anyone else. We’ve all got our issues and our challenges. We all deserve the same rights and access as each other. And to do that we need to see that what disabled people need is not to be told what angels they are but to have social and physical barriers taken down.

Please read this important article interviewing women with disabilities about how they feel about the idea of this new term “divyang.”

I see a lot of parallels here with the state of feminism in India. A lot of people do not realize that they are being sexist because they love women and adore women and think women are divine and special. But women are not different and special. We aren’t below men but we also are not above men. Women want to be seen and treated as equals. The danger in treating us like we’re special beings is that then if we do something human we are seen as no longer feminine or womanly and not deserving of respect or care because we debased our self back to normal. Men and Women all divine and Men and Women are all human. We are all both.

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  • Emily.E.N

    Things like this drive me crazy. While addressing stigma is important, dehumanizing anybody one way or the other is never helpful. Saying that women are like devi, that cows are sacred, that disabled people are blessed, these are just words people use to show how accepting they are, and words are of little use. Neither women nor cows need a lamp waved before them with chants; women need to see social change take place so they feel safe walking the streets and respected as equal participants in all aspects of life, and the cows need people to work towards policy changes that address animal cruelty. I think too many people make the mistake of thinking that words and opinions are the same as actions.

  • skyblue

    I wonder if part of the reason that such well-meant statements about people with disabilities come off as so patronizing is that they define the worth of a person in terms of what they do for others. He inspires so many people, she taught the family the meaning of happiness, etc. Whereas everyone else gets to exist for their own purpose and make of life what they want to.

    There’s definitely a parallel with how women are spoken of by well meaning folks as well: “she’s somebody’s daughter”, “that could be your sister”, as opposed to, “she’s somebody”, and “that could be you”.

    • Ambaa

      Good point about existing for your own purpose!

  • Akkaraju Sarma

    I want to give you an actual example of a child with multiple sclerosis, At age 10 or so, parents taught her to peck at a keyboard of a computer and after learning how, typed back “everyone thinks something is wrong, but everything is fine, my brain says walk over thee and pick an item but my body wiring does not cooperate”. Thus, persons with special needs to be understood and helped but never looked down as disabled. Please take a moment to ask someone needing helped, asked or not to reach ask “may I help you”. You have done your darma.

  • Phoenix

    I’m 28 years old, agender, patent. I’m a fellow American white Hindu. I have a Masters degree and I’m a Certified Health Education Specialist. And I am disabled. I had cataract surgery when I was 4 years old (at the time they could put a replacement lens in, so they took everything to do with my lenses out. So I have VERY thick glasses), was diagnosed with glaucoma at age 10, had knee stabilization surgery at 17, and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis at 26. I spend my time in public in a wheelchair being pushed by my wife. I’m even in the process of applying for SSI. Everywhere I go, I’m treated differently. At a Halloween store, a salesperson spoke to my wife about what costume I might want instead of asking me directly- then was surprised when I spoke up. My former rheumatologist would speak slowly and loudly to me as though I had no idea what she was talking about, even though I’m definitely sure I’ve done more research into my conditions than she has! I even experimented one day by going in her exam room blind without my glasses and her whole attitude changed! I was a normal person again! So, to confirm this article… you’re right! I don’t want special treatment! I’m equal to everyone else and all I want is to be treated as the regular person I am. I’m not a dog and I’m not any more or less divine than everyone else. All I want is my rights of equality for my conditions and gender identity.

    • Ambaa

      That makes me so mad! I really want society to shift to not see disability as something super different, strange, or scary. We’ve all got our issues and there is no reason at all that needing an aid of some kind should make people treat you differently!

  • Amar

    I as an disable person acknowledge that sentiment.
    the thing is in my view every person born here, born as an “individual entity” complete and empowered, if nature takes something it gives something extra.
    Hindi guys might remember “एक रग फालतू होती है”. in short nature is kind with us.
    खासकर ज्योतिष अनुसार।