Since the time I have been associated with WE’RE ONE, I have had the opportunity to interact with some inspiring people who have achieved what we as “Normal” cannot. But while they have never been anything less than enthusiastic to meet me, I have always been somewhat afraid. So, when I was told to interview Mr. Venkat Muthusubramaniam, a 62-year-old B.com graduate who is also challenged, I got to researching immediately. But no amount of research prepared me for the experience. Entering AADI – Action for Ability Development and Inclusion you realize how much infrastructural transformation is required in our society. The entire facility is run by and for the differently abled, working alongside everyone as “one”. Starting from the receptionist to the facilitators, I went through a series of emotions before finally coming face-to-face with Muthu Sir. I was intimidated to say the least, which was surprising, since he appeared to be just a small, frail looking man placed awkwardly on his wheelchair; it was hard to believe that this man started his life as a facilitator by giving tuitions to children. With his love for travelling and the ease with which he dreams of all the things he still has to achieve in life, I almost forget he is bound to his wheelchair. Oh! Did I forget to mention that he also happens to have Cerebral Palsy? Just a small detail which does not affect his positivity and joy for life. Read on to know more about this inspiring man’s journey…
1. How did it all start? Tell us about your condition, or as a lay man would say, “Disability”.
My condition is known as “Spastic”. It’s called Cerebral Palsy. It affects our brain and we lose our muscle control, because of which we suffer. It varies from person to person, ranging from mild, moderate to severe. It could be by birth or after birth. My condition is because I was a breech case. It means that I was born legs first which caused a trauma to my brain hence affecting my nervous system, which affected the cells as they did not get enough oxygen. I was unable to sit until I was around 3-years-old and even that was possible with some support. Only when there was no proper movement in my body for almost one year and everything was delayed in my growth pattern, did my parents suspect that there was something wrong and they started running here and there.
2. What would you say has been the toughest part of being on a wheelchair?
I was lucky that I received my education at the right age and received proper care at an institute in Delhi. I was put into the hostel facility there and I got to live with the other handicapped individuals with different kinds of challenges. Some were spastic. Some were affected by polio and so on. There my education went ahead along with my physical treatment to rehabilitate me. Because of all the parental and institutional support I got, I did not face a lot of struggle as such, compared to other challenged people. They helped me walk, first on regular crutches, and then on axillary crutches.
3. But not everyone is that lucky. What advice would you give to other people who are living with disabilities but are not as motivated?
I would like to tell them that they have to develop the potential and positivity to grow. They need to use every resource they have for progress. Even though there was immense emotional support in my time, there weren’t a lot of technological options available. The technology today is booming and there is lot of advancement in the solutions available for challenged people. They just need to find a way. Use the internet and use the technology to achieve whatever you want in life.
4. What do you think are people’s perceptions about a person on a wheelchair? And how do you think that can be changed?
A wheelchair is just a device that is used for mobility. It is used to achieve the same result that people use their legs for. It is just an alternative way to help people move, something that facilitates people in living a life of dignity and respect. That is all it is, and that is all it should be seen as, rather that something that is a struggle. It is just the same as walking on your legs. We are walking with the wheelchair. What’s the big deal?
5. What is your take on the Normal v/s Disabled comparison the society does?
There is no difference between an abled and a challenged person, we just need to provide an equal opportunity to every individual. An access to every available service will enable people to be empowered and be included in the mainstream. Treat each person first as a human being. Do not deny them opportunities to grow. Then, see what they can achieve.
6. How would your life be, had you not been on a wheelchair? What would be different?
I am not sure about that, because essentially I am the same human being. My wheelchair has only made me stronger as a human being. And with an increased accessibility in public places, there would hardly be any difference. At least, I see no difference. People might perceive me differently.
7. Life is not as easy as you make it sound. You must have faced certain barriers when you go out to a public space?
Oh yes! People have a certain way of looking at individuals with disabilities. Their perceptions about differently abled people precede their humanity. I myself have been confused to be a beggar when I went out for walks earlier. They did not treat me with respect and dignity. But, it is heartening to see an increased accessibility at public places leading to a change in the way people look at us now.
8. Has your being on a wheelchair ever been a hurdle in getting employment?
Certainly, there is a stark difference in the acceptance that regular people get compared to that available to differently abled people. Like everyone else, I also wrote bank exams and a few other competitive papers but I could not get through. There is a notion that a handicapped person cannot contribute to the economy. There are at least 15 percent of differently abled people that can be employed and made into an asset but they are instead, made to sit at home like children who need to be cared for, all their life. The situation is worse in private sector jobs, since it is purely profit driven. One way of improving this is by creation laws in favor of the differently abled. Find the ability in the disabled, don’t look at what they are not, and look at what they can do.
9. If there would be one thing you’d like to say to people reading this interview, what would it be?
Do not lose heart and keep fighting. Help in changing the environment and work towards providing equal access in every sphere, whether it is service, employment or education. A person with disability should be made a part and parcel of mainstream society. Equality is the only message I would like to give to everyone reading this interview.
Tulika: We are trying to change it sir, and with this interview, I hope we shall do some justice to the cause.
Muthu Sir: Oh yes, you should. Think of it. I am still a man. In a society like ours, if a girl is born disabled, the people straight away start saying things like, “Who will marry her?” Like, c’mon. She’s just taken birth. Atleast let her live first.
P.S. – This silenced me out, and there was nothing more I could add!