I am Prasanna Kumar Pincha, a former Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of India. Incidentally, I am blind since my birth. Currently, I am associated with the National Human Rights Commission of India as a Special Rapporteur for issues relating to persons with disabilities.
I wish to express the view that labeling or describing a person with a disability as ‘Divyang’ is not only highly patronizing and condescending; but it also has the effect of diluting one’s identity as a person with a disability. Such an expression, inter alia, has the effect of reinforcing the myth that persons with disabilities, by virtue of their being so, possess supernatural or superhuman traits which, if anything, is outrageously erroneous.
Wittingly or unwittingly, this also provides an easy escape route to the government for not doing much to promote and protect rights of persons with disabilities for the simple reason that those possessed of divine organs/limbs do not need to be empowered since they are already empowered by virtue of their possessing divine organs/limbs.
Without generally doubting the bonafides of those who end up coining such patronizing expressions, I wish to state that such condescending expressions stem, inter alia, from a sense of superiority in those who coin them, and also from equating one’s disability with one’s inability, more particularly, inability to perform which, by all manner of means, is obscenely ridiculous. It goes without saying that coiners of such expressions, to my mind, are somewhere and somehow driven by the overpowering desire to be perceived as highly kind, considerate and civil people.
It is therefore no wonder that the international human rights treaty to which India is a state party rightly uses the expression ‘Persons with Disabilities’. I strongly favour the use of expressions like ‘persons with disabilities’, ‘blind’, ‘speech and hearing impaired’, ETC. wherever necessary and relevant. There is absolutely no need to sugarcoat a fact and sound artificial in your anxiety to be perceived as highly civil.
Disability being a part of human diversity as is rightly recognized by the aforesaid UN Convention, describing me for example, as a blind person wherever such description is warranted and is necessary and relevant, does not in any way undermine or violate my dignity as long as describing someone as a tall gentleman or a fair-complexioned person does not undermine or violate the dignity of that person.
Expressions such as ‘differently abled’ or ‘specially abled’ or ‘handicapped’ must be discarded forthwith. While so much can be written in support of my contention, suffice it to state here that the origin of the expression ‘handicapped’ goes back to medieval Europe when beggars used to beg with a cap in their hands. Likewise, the expressions ‘differently abled’ or ‘specially abled’ are no better.
Can you show me any two living entities under the sun that are uniformly abled or uniformly disabled in all respects. Certainly not. Then, why is it that you only choose to single me out or the likes of me out and label us as differently abled.
The fact of the matter is that if I am differently abled in relation to you, you too are differently abled in relation to me. Besides, the message I as a person with disability get when labeled as differently abled is that I am not one amongst you and that I am different and the rest of you are uniform which is but a travesty of fact.
The right approach would be to highlight the equality dimension; rather than harping on the differentiality dimension. That way each living entity under the sun is unique; and, persons with disabilities are no exception. This explains why the said UN Convention incorporates respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of humanity and human diversity