2017 has started out to be quite a memorable year. Jeremy and I had the opportunity to visit India. We traveled to attend a friend’s wedding, but spent almost 2 weeks traveling around the country. Most of our time was spent in cities and visiting friends. We were lucky to have friends from Indiana that were in India during our visit – they were amazing hosts during our stay!
First, I’d like to extend the biggest thank you to my lovely boyfriend. India is not an accessible country by any means. Thanks to him, stairs, small doorways and broken sidewalks were small barriers. His consistent willingness to help was astonishing! I know I a can be a little unpleasant at times – especially when I have food poisoning and am exhausted! We survived and can now tell you all about it.
On the note of Jeremy being such a wonderful person, we encountered many awkward experiences in regards to people telling him ‘how great he was to be with me.’ In other words – the girl in the wheelchair. Don’t worry, I didn’t take offense to this as it was clearly the beginning of a cultural enlightenment. I assumed India would have similar views on disability as Vietnam.. and it did. In India we found that people were much more vocal about their curiosity. This could have been because English was spoken more broadly in India. Strangers had no issue asking me ‘What’s wrong with you?’ More awkwardly, they would ask Jeremy, ‘Sir, what’s wrong with your wife?’ I was normally sitting right there as well. Of course they assume we are married, but even worse, they assume the woman can’t speak for herself. This was then followed by questions concerning types of treatments I’ve attempted and telling me to pray lots and surely I’ll get better. It dawned on me that since disability is so hidden, most people are only familiar with short-term disability – injury etc. They were so confused how I could have had this condition for so long and why I wasn’t getting better.
No matter how much I thought I was prepared to hear these type of questions, there is no doubt they were frustrating. I live by the social model of disability, meaning the real problem and barrier is the world around me. So, as you can imagine, the consistent questioning about my well-being got to me a bit. I think the only thing that made it easier to brush off was knowing this was more of a cultural thing than rudeness. Many of these people, if they haven’t left India, probably haven’t seen an active/ independent person in a wheelchair. Especially someone who is young. Their vocal curiosity seemed to stem from actual concern for me. Many people acted genuinely concerned and thought their advice must be extremely helpful. I could sense that people weren’t trying to be rude, but were convinced they could help me get better with treatments, oils, etc. We didn’t take it upon ourselves to inform them that it was actually none of their business. It became more of a learning experience and challenge to help people understand that even though I wasn’t getting better – I’m OK.
These events could have made me roll quickly away from India with no desire to return. Instead, I now feel stronger. I know I can handle traveling to a country where disability is a concerning topic. I hope that I opened there eyes in a new way as well. Although their thoughts on disability are deeply rooted, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be adjusted. The majority of people need to become more familiar with disability. This comes when a society creates a space welcoming to those of all abilities. The infrastructure, with regards to accessibility, is frightening. In smaller cities there is no accessible transport. Although, in Dehli we were impressed with a very accessible Metro system. Sidewalks, shops and buildings have some combination of steps or tiny door ways. Accessible toilets can be found in some public places like malls, but not within private businesses or restaurants. I firmly believe if we build an inclusive atmosphere, people will come. The USA and Germany also struggle to make a completely inclusive society. There are many areas of town that are not accessible. Even Mr. Trump feels the needs to degrade those with disabilities. But fortunately we’re far ahead of India. It will take some time for India to consider accessibility as an important issue when so many other things are in need of help – environment, pollution and poverty to name a few.
The trip to India was mentally and physically exhausting for me and those helping me, but in no way did that take away from the beauty of the country. People were kind and generous, the food was amazing and the sites were breathtaking. I can say traveling to Asian counties is quickly becoming my favorite because of the sheer difference in living and scenery. I’m grateful for this new perspective provided by our travels.
More specifics on our trip to come soon…