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  • Writer's pictureRidhima Munjal

Changing Dis-Ability into This-Ability

In a recent incident, IndiGo airlines stopped a child with special needs from boarding a flight with his family. The child was just previously in great distress, in the midst of anxiety and confusion. His parents handled the situation with patience, with even the passengers offering to help them, and the child's meltdown passed. However, the airline did not allow them to board the flight, and later issued a statement that "the child could not board the flight as he was in a state of panic."

This is not the first time that people with special needs have faced stigma and discrimination in airports.

In 2019, two disability activists had to tackle a similar situation. Ms. Kuhu Das, a polio survivor, was asked to remove her callipers even when she told a female security officer she physically could not take off her trousers. Ms. Jeeja Ghosh, the second activist, was told she could not fly without an escort because of her cerebral palsy. After facing harassment and humiliation, the two protested and were eventually allowed to travel.

According to the 2011 Census of India, there are 26.8 million people with disabilities. The 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPDA) grants fundamental rights that ensure disabled people lives of dignity and equality.

However, this aspiration is a dream that has yet to materialize. People with disabilities are constantly victimized by negative social attitudes.

The onus is on the government to effectively implement the RPDA. In the meantime, there are two crucial steps that we can all undertake to help disabled people live their life free of scrutiny and inequity:

  • Embrace that disability is widespread and that the community is polylithic. Disabilities affect every demographic and can impact people from birth or because of an accident, illness, or ageing. Symptoms and impairments vary by person, so be considerate of this and respect each disabled person's boundaries.

  • Use appropriate language and etiquette. Our words and actions can be used to promote respect and dignity. When it comes to people with disabilities, refer to each person how they want. Different disabilities involve various communication needs, so always listen to those with more knowledge of the person, without judgment.

There is now a wider acceptance of disabilities, spurring us forward to the aspirations set out in the RPDA; IndiGo Airlines faced widespread backlash for their discrimination and were ultimately punished with a fine of Rs 5 Lakh (or a bit under $6.5k US). Yet this pattern of humiliation is still much too common—We each have a role to play in breaking it.

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