I once overheard a conversation that revealed so much about attitudes towards disabled individuals that I was profoundly shaken.
The topic of discussion was a young man of a decent earning and standing. The catch? A childhood illness permanently affected the functioning of the left side of his body, and he had onsets of mild tremors from time to time. According to the conversers, his tremor was enough to mark him as “spoiled goods.”
Impressions of the disabled seem to be fraught by flawed assumptions about their forever-compromised worth. As a result, those with disabilities are tucked away out of sight and spoken of in pitying terms, as this man was.
Surely we can do better.
Here are some of the ludicrous sayings floating about, and some responses I would like to everyone to consider:
Myth: We want our children to have healthy spouses, can you blame us?
Response: The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Let’s be honest about how “healthy” “normal” individuals are. Given this age of rising obesity, diabetes, and cancer, there is no telling whether those perceived as “normal” will outlive their disabled counterparts. There’s not even a guarantee that they’d have a decent quality of life.
Those with disabilities face a different set of challenges in achieving full health, yes, but that does not make their state inferior. We all are struggling to be healthy in the truest definition of the worth, and that makes us more similar than different.
Myth: Children are out of the question.
Response: This foolish and automatic assumptions in play: (a) the traits the person possesses can be passed on to their children, or (b) disabled people aren’t “interested” in reproducing; they’re asexual, or (c) their disabilities render them as inadequate potential parents. The only response I’ll give to this nonsense: Just because someone is disabled does not mean they do not want to or cannot have children.
Myth: if there’s a physical condition, who knows, there may be mental condition as well
Response: This is the absolute worst. First of all: no, people who are physically disabled do not automatically have mental health issues that affect their ability to have a relationship. Also, what’s being implied is that if someone has an invisible disability such as a mental or learning disability, that’s fine. What kind of a double standard is that?
Is disability a non-issue? No. Is extra consideration required when making such matches? Yes. Should people be absolutely certain that they will love and support their lesser-abled spouses for as long as they can? Yes.
Here’s what not to do: treat and regard them as subhumans to be pitied.
The conversation I overheard that spurred me to write this ended on an interesting note. One of the people (you’ve probably figured out by this point that it was a well-meaning but ill-informed matronly matchmaker, a.k.a the rishtaa aunty) said: “Perhaps the only way [those with disabilities] can get married is not by arranged marriages, but by finding someone themselves. The families don’t have to make the decision, so the children will make them themselves and settle down.”
This impression is a double-edged sword. It gets precariously close to acknowledging that everyone is deserving of love and lifelong companionship, while at the same time disavowing responsibility for such a match. For when it comes to status, beauty, and wealth, rishta aunties are blazingly confident in making the right matches. But they stutter and flail helplessly at the prospect of someone with a tremor.
May we be redeemed for transgressing against the vulnerable and underprivileged members of our community. May we get over ourselves for thinking that normality exists.
Note: I’m blessed and privileged to be able-bodied, and I hope this little rant doesn’t come across as self-righteous or a claim to speak on someone’s behalf.