I am a “normal” girl. I have all ten fingers, all ten toes, two legs, and two arms. I can walk normally, I can write normally, and I can see normally. Like anybody else in the world out there, I blend in. I have never thought of anyone not having what I have and what everyone should have naturally. I have never ever seen anyone lacking those things… until I encountered a wonderful girl named Niveditha in my 11th std French class.
The Wheelchair Experience I never imagined what an eye opening experience this was going to be. Getting oriented with and accustomed to using a wheelchair seemed like it was going to be as easy as getting on a bicycle and pedaling away. At the start of our French class my partner Jawahar and I didn’t fully understand how challenging using a non-motorized wheelchair can be. We knew quite well that it doesn’t require an astronaut to operate a wheelchair but we were sure that Niveditha had some troubles getting acquainted with the basic functions of the wheelchair that she was using (i.e. how to apply the brakes properly). That made us feel like , well, let’s just say that we didn’t feel like the sharpest pencils in the box!
We were passing around the classes for the quiz that we had that day. I was handing some books to a white girl next to me, and without a thought, I gasped. It was Niveditha next to me. She was seated in wheel chair and unfortunately she didn’t have a right leg . It looked demented and unfamiliar; I was speechless. Conscious of my shock, that girl slowly moved her wheel chair and went to her class number B2. I felt horrible—I didn’t mean to judge her like that because she didn’t have a leg . Awkward and frustrated at myself, I couldn’t talk or see her directly into her eyes that day.
That evening, I kept thinking about her leg and how I reacted to it. I was so ashamed of myself because I had probably hurt her feelings. I stared at her like she was an alien from the other planet. Then I thought of my childhood friend Priya, who has a leg that doesn’t bend because of her unfortunate childhood accident. How could I do that to her, while I, myself, have seen my close friend limping all my life? I luckily don’t have any disabilities that would separate me from rest of the people, and I am thankful; however, that doesn’t mean that I can be prejudiced against those disabled people. “Normal” people like me have a tendency to be partial in their judgment toward the disabled. A big mistake. If not having a leg or having an abnormal leg means that person is out of the ordinary, I must also be not ordinary because I wear contact lenses for a bad eye sight. Considering that, how many people who are not “normal” are out there in this planet?
The next day, I sincerely apologized to Niveditha . She kindheartedly smiled at me and forgave me. Then she told me her name, Niveditha , and how thankful she is for me to open my heart at her disability. Her words were shocking. She was never ashamed of her disability because she can handle daily tasks well. Because it makes her distinguished and special from anybody else, she told me she is blessed.
Our school had organized an awareness programme for helping disabled persons. I and my partner Jawahar participated in a drama in which we had to play a lame role. We rented a wheelchair from a local medical supply store that was fairly new and had only been used once or twice before, according to the store clerk. When my partner and I set out to begin our wheelchair simulation we both had to grab one armrest from each side of the wheelchair and force it open because it was so rigid. At that moment we felt like we might have some problems with the wheelchair while conducting our play . I began the first four hours of our play in the wheelchair and was also first in experiencing some of the difficulties with using the wheelchair. Since it was practically brand new, I was the one who had to break in the wheelchair. The seat of the chair was so uncomfortable and stiff, which made me wonder how my partner and I were going to last four hours each sitting in it. After the first hour my hip started aching and my legs went partially numb. This made it challenging for me to concentrate on our play, to move around and to remain in the wheelchair for the duration of my time. Since my partner, Jawahar , is taller with longer legs than me, he experienced twice the pain and discomfort.
The only thing this time that kept both of us from having an utterly degrading experience was that the seat belt around our waist that had stretched out to the max and locked up, which prevented us from taking a spill in the middle of crowded audience. We also experienced difficulties for lack of knowing how to apply the brakes properly. I had some pretty embarrassing moments as a result of not knowing how to secure the wheelchair properly using the wheel brakes.
This play reminded me and Jawahar about Niveditha , how she is leading her life with difficulties in a wheel chair and how boldly she challenged her life .This entire play sitting in a wheelchair gave us experience and has positively helped us to see from the point of view of a disabled person in a wheelchair. Learning how to get around in a wheelchair and to use it was undoubtedly challenging.
In this play we found that the most uncomfortable feeling that we had about being in the wheelchair was more physical than emotional or mental. First of all, having done this play in a wheelchair was an experience that gave us an appreciation for our able body. The second thing that it did for us was giving both of us a more positive attitude about people in wheelchairs with disability. Finally, when we were in the recreation profession we can take this experience and some specific strategies to help people without disabilities to develop a more positive attitude about people with disabilities.
As a leisure service professional I can help facilitate the acceptance of people with disabilities by all members of my programs by using strategies that promote joint participation between people with and without disabilities, structuring interactions that will improve the attitudes among all participants in my programs, facilitating equal status by including all participants into group activities, and encouraging extensive personal contact between people with and without disabilities intended to increase communication and understanding.
Meeting Niveditha was the greatest thing happened to me; I no longer see disabled people with that prejudice in my mind. Deciding to give out some help, I started to volunteer at Daya Nivalay, a local nursing home in town . Many of the residents there are immobile; they cannot do anything by themselves without help from others. As I was pushing wheelchairs for them, saying hi to them, or just talking to them about their lives, I realized how normal they are. They are just like us, trying to live a life of their own. They are what we are. .
During helping them , I observed that social reactions about a person in a wheelchair are not always negative. My attitude and respect about people with disabilities has increased as a result of this help. As a recreation professional in the future, I will have learned from this experience to be sensitive and aware of people with disabilities in my programs and incorporate strategies to help people without disabilities improve the attitudes about people with disabilities.
I am so thankful for Niveditha who taught me a great life lesson, and I never forget that great life lesson that she granted to me like a Diwali present.
Most people are not “special.” They’re like the vast majority who occupy this planet. Sometimes all that people need is to be treated like anyone else. That, more than anything, can make you special.
“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” –J.K. Rowling
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them”