Perceptions can change if you open up your mind

April 24, 2008 at 3:37 pm 6 comments

When we refer to someone as “disabled” what are we really doing? Are we sayng that that person is less than us in some way? Are we feeling sorry for him/her? Patting ourselves on the back for our compassion and sense of humanity if we take the time to hang out with someone whom we have labeled as disabled?

How do we define a disability? Isn’t it merely the absence of an ability? Aren’t all of us then disabled in one way or another? For instance, if I were living in Japan and was unable to speak Japanese, would I not be disabled from communicating effectively with the majority of the people living there? What if I found myself in the midst of a group of financial experts who were discussing some complicated financial issue that went over my head, wouldn’t I be disabled from understanding the context of that discussion?

Supervisor and student getting to know each otherRecently I met a young woman by the name of Lozina in Rawalpindi. She is confined to a wheelchair and, for her, pain and discomfort are synonymous with living. But chatting with her was an amazing experience. She has done her Masters in Computer Science and is at the moment working on a PhD. She has been physically challenged since she was born. Her parents decided at the outset that her condition would not be allowed to restrict her from doing anything that she wanted to do in life. I met the parents too and never have I met a couple who are as proud of their daughter, of the person she is and of her achievements. It was wonderful to see. The next step she is taking is to start on her PhD program and I must commend Dr. Arshad Ali and his team at NUST for encouraging her and providing her with whatever direction she needs to pursue this program. Vickram Crishna and his partner Dr. Arun Mehta have been asked to be her supervisors alongwith two NUST professors.

Meeting with Lozina reminded me of a person I met in Ahmedabad years ago. I had been invited to be a panelist at a conference there. Walking into the workshop area, I saw a gentleman sitting and working on his laptop, headset on, talking on his mobile while he was typing away – a really hi-tech dude. He was the moderator of the session – Dr. Dipender Manocha. A terrific guy, great sense of humour, very knowledgeable about a diverse number of subjects. I sat and chatted with him for about half an hour before I realized that he could not see. Dipender has since been to Pakistan several times. We (P@SHA and Rotary) have organized seminars for him and he has assisted six institutes to form the DAISY for Pakistan platform in Pakistan. These institutes have been given equipment and training and have now started converting books into DAISY format thus making books much more accessible to those with visual challenges. The Holy Quran and some  books from the school curriculum have already been converted.

I remember something that Dipender told me when we first met. He said those who can see will never know what it’s like to always have everything read to you, to never be able to ‘read’ and send email, to pick up any book one wants to and ‘read’ it. He said when he first discovered technology, it empowered him to be who he was, to communicate and share what he knew and to simply have the pleasure of ‘reading’ a book at his own pace.

It is experiences like these that make me wonder why we think of people like Lozina and Dipender as ‘disabled’ and why we do not spend more time developing technology to empower the broader segments of society – or as my friends Vickram and Arun often say, why do we not work with people with various challenges so that they can develop the technology they need to make life better for themselves? That was what led to the workshop on Intelligent Choices. More about that later.

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You know what state your mind is in when … TiECon on 8th May in Karachi

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Fariha Akhtar  |  April 24, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    This post reminds me of a small exercise that one of our teachers made us all do when were in 9th grade…the exercise was about finding at least one handicap that each one of us thinks he/she has…and surprisingly when we started thinking every one came up with a list of handicaps. So, rightly said Jehan…we are all disabled in one sense or the other.

    Hats off to Lozina, Dipender and all such courageous people. They also give people like you and me the courage to chase our dreams🙂

    Reply
  • 2. Talha  |  April 24, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Reminded me of this guy from India.

    Reply
  • 3. Talha  |  April 24, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    And the following quote from one of my favorite movie “Scent of a woman”…🙂

    Lt. Col. Frank Slade: Out of order, I show you out of order. You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask. I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a FLAMETHROWER to this place! Out of order? Who the hell do you think you’re talkin’ to? I’ve been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there isn’t nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you’re merely sending this splendid foot soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are… executin’ his soul! And why? Because he’s not a Bairdman. Bairdmen. You hurt this boy, you’re gonna be Baird bums, the lot of ya. And Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there…

    Reply
  • 4. Vickram Crishna  |  April 24, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    @talha: TVR strides the (software) world like a colossus, but you know what? There could be, should be, thousands, millions, of TVRs. There is a TVR in all of us, actually, not necessarily a software TVR, whatever talent, even the seemingly simple skill in the art of living a quiet peaceful life, but it is drilled out of many of us, most of us, from an early age.

    About fixing this ‘early age’ problem: do check this thought out.

    Reply
  • […] another angle to this argument. A while ago Jehan Ara met Lozina at NUST Rawalpindi, who has just completed her Masters and preparing to start with her PHD program, and is confined to […]

    Reply
  • 6. Tanveer ul Islam Qazi  |  June 5, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Lozina was my student during her Masters. she is really very brave and hard working. Her father and mother are really work hard to bring her a good helping citizen of the country. specially her mother was keeping in touch with the university to help out the university fellow and for the feed back. I salute her and her parent and pray for lozina. may she do and get any thing which she want.

    Tanveer Qazi
    The Stairs Montessori and High school
    F-Block Satellite Town Rawalpindi Pakistan
    mtanveerqazi@yahoo.com

    Reply

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