Why is ‘Ability’ the Norm?

Illustration credits: Dadu Shin

AS the world wakes up to International Day of Disabled Persons, speeches and sermons are being delivered across the globe while persons with disabilities continue to suffer unabatedly. The sufferings of persons with disabilities only seem to cumulate and aggravate in spite of these massive awareness campaigns. This brute state only reveals that the conscience of people hasn’t been sufficiently stirred and insensitivity and indifference towards persons with disabilities continues to be the defining parameters of majoritarian behaviour. The laws, which have been laid out on paper, have been either insufficient or ineffective in curbing the violence and injustice committed against persons with disabilities in structural and a-structural forms. Society too has maintained a status quo of marginalisation and subalternity towards persons with disabilities and this social numbness has only amplified and deepened the crisis of persons with disabilities. They are being deprived of a life of dignity, repeatedly made objects of satire and sarcasm and an attitude of pervasive bullying is legitimised against them. As a result, their already existing problems of physical disability are only compounded by the mental torture inflicted upon them.

The challenge of restoring a life of dignity to persons with disabilities has to have at least a bilateral approach – ethical and legal. It seems almost a universal preconception and a deep rooted human bias that persons with disabilities aren’t full humans and are, in one way or the other, inferior to able-bodied persons. This bias seems to be rooted in the notion that individuals are to be evaluated in terms of their delivering capacities and their potential to “contribute”.

Our civilizations, both eastern and western have made the delivering capacity of an individual as the sole measure and criteria of worth, dignity and right to live. The mechanised rather technological society which we have found ourselves in, has drawn a dictum on stone that only those are entitled to a life of dignity who can be active agents of material generation: ones who can generate wealth and material resources, who don’t rely on others’ helping hand and personify ‘strength’ to mould the world and tailor it to their needs, thereby proving themselves to be “fruitful individuals for the society”.

This perspective of understanding people in terms of their utilitarian merit has not only overshadowed the concept of humanity as such but also exposed people with disabilities to vulnerabilities and discriminations of all sorts. It is extremely difficult for people, who are otherwise able-bodied, to understand the problems of and empathize with people with disabilities, for the psycho-social dimensions of these problems are so broad that only people with disabilities face them first hand and are rattled and broken by the same.

The challenges which people with disabilities face are augmented and multiplied by discouraging social framework, lack of logistical support and prevalence of social mores that deteriorate and aggravate their situation further.

This economization of values and the determination of people’s worth in terms of their ability to contribute to the economic production has had detrimental consequences to the reception of persons with disabilities, hampering their claims to equality and a life of dignity.

A basic revision of outlook is needed on this front and people are to be respected on the pure grounds of sanctity and dignity of life irrespective of their economic outcomes and their abilities to contribute to the society in general.

These insights stem from my first hand observation. As somebody suffering from cerebral palsy, life has been like an uphill task and despite securing for myself a niche in academic and social circles based purely on hard work and determination, a life of dignity is nowhere in sight. On a daily basis, I have to endure maltreatment and marginalisation, as people who are unable to understand my words, go on passing vulgar and demoralising remarks. I often contemplate the plight of those, who are still lesser privileged, have no space to vent the maltreatment and lack of courtesy meted out to them. The psychological repercussions of such happenings are so destructive that it takes a long time for a victim to recover from these episodes and sometimes the victim doesn’t recover at all.

If the academic excellence, resilience, merit and recognition doesn’t help a person to secure for himself/herself a life of general social dignity, one is left wondering, what else needs to be done to secure one’s right to life of dignity and respect – something which is so basic and inviolable a right that it should require no qualifications. When people with disabilities are disrespected, maltreated and given a realisation that they don’t belong to the normal lot, the detrimental consequences can well be figured out and these consequences corner people with disabilities into helplessness, insecurity, depression and a feeling of pervasive meaninglessness of life.


  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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