IS HE BLIND?

Business Bhutan - - Editorial - AMRITH BDR. SUBBA

Some years ago, I was walk­ing with my wife in the town when a passerby ap­proached us and asked my wife “Is he blind?” My wife just smiled and said “Yes!”. Then he be­gan to ask her the en­tire his­tory of how I lost my sight and what I am cur­rently do­ing, and I was stand­ing there lis­ten­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion as though I was in the dis­tance. He never talked to me di­rectly. I felt quite awk­ward be­cause he was talk­ing about me just in front of me and I was there stand­ing like a life­less statue.

Sim­i­larly, I was once in a restau­rant with my friends and a wait­ress came up to us to take our or­ders. Some of us asked for cof­fee and the rest asked for tea. While serv­ing, the wait­ress asked my friend “What did he or­der? Does he want sugar?” I was just won­der­ing whom she was talk­ing about when my friend turned to­wards me and asked me if I wanted sugar in my cof­fee. At the mo­ment, I just thought why couldn’t she talk to me di­rectly. I could have given the an­swer my­self. Even the deaf and dumb can speak for them­selves through sign­lan­guage.

Many a time, peo­ple have asked my wife or friends if I needed any­thing, in­stead of di­rectly ask­ing me. I know I have a dis­abil­ity but that does not mean I don’t have the abil­ity to speak for my­self. When you talk about per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties in the third per­son while in their pres­ence, you are con­sciously or un­con­sciously sidelin­ing them be­cause you are not di­rectly en­gag­ing them in your con­ver­sa­tion. It is im­por­tant they are lis­tened to, talked to and en­gaged like any­body else so that they get the op­por­tu­nity and con­fi­dence to come out of their homes and in­ter­act with the pub­lic. If you con­tinue to look at them as a third per­son while they are phys­i­cally present with you, you are shut­ting their doors to free­dom and in­de­pen­dence for­ever.

I don’t know why some peo­ple hes­i­tate to in­ter­act di­rectly with per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties when­ever they see them. While walk­ing alone on the streets, I have over­heard peo­ple telling their friends “Why don’t you help him?” In­stead of talk­ing about me in third per­son, I love peo­ple di­rectly com­ing up to me and talk­ing to me di­rectly rather than de­ploy­ing some­body else in be­tween. Al­though we live in two dif­fer­ent worlds, our dis­abil­ity should not be treated as a bar­rier be­tween us. We may look dif­fer­ent but it does not mean that we lack the abil­ity to de­cide and speak for our­selves. My wife has to of­ten speak for me dur­ing so­cial gath­er­ings and other spe­cial events since peo­ple still choose to talk to me through her. It may not be a con­scious be­hav­ior but this kind of in­ter­ac­tion some­times makes us feel aloof from the rest of the world. As we now move for­ward in time, it’s im­por­tant that we start re­flect­ing on how we can sen­si­tively in­ter­act with peo­ple around us. Let us all work to­gether to­wards break­ing those bar­ri­ers and cre­ate an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety where all of us can live to­gether in har­mony, en­joy­ing equal rights and re­spect re­gard­less of our dis­abil­ity or so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus.

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