Australian author Donna Williams said: I’ve experienced it. ’” She was diagnosed with autism, so she should know. I think what she says applies to most disorders, not just autism. We’ve described obstacles to fit our ideas, often with wholesome fantasy and thick layers of pathos.
What the book This Kind of Child: The ‘Disability Story by K Srilata does is cut through these filters and open our minds to inclusion, self-advocacy, and a rights-based approach to disability. It is to give. In fact, against life in general. If these are just words, read the book. They make sense and even encourage us to accept them as the natural order of things.
This book softens some prejudices and sets new boundaries. How else would you get your head around the lives, pregnancy, and parenting of legally blind Megan and Mark? Or will Kirstein take her first steps towards becoming her mother in a world blind to her?
This book left me with so many heroes that it was difficult to choose a story to write to guide this review. I think we share the same predicament.
But that’s not the point of the book. It’s not an attempt to make a hero. This book chronicles an extraordinary effort to achieve the joys of life’s mediocrity.
It’s like taking a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler to Montessori school. You can take a walk in the park and play with others, or hail a taxi to take your child to the clinic for vaccinations. Everyday things that we do without thinking in our lives. They don’t require any special talent. But for many, it’s a struggle.
Just ask 17-year-old Zack, a kind and funny autistic. He’ll say he likes the days planned to ‘T’. In fact, he succeeds in construction. Any deviation from the expected structure of the day can cause him to have a meltdown. “It can be an emotional upheaval and you can never get your day back full of joy.” Like a reroute because a sinkhole suddenly appeared on the road. But these are barriers inherent in functional impairment.
There are many other things you can see and many things you can’t see. As Sriratha points out, a building without a ramp is an obstacle for the disabled, much like a traffic light is for the blind. These are easy to navigate. What about other things, such as educational practices and mechanisms for assessment and evaluation? Systemic barriers that seemingly insurmountable, even with laws like the right to education? What about sociocultural barriers?
We invalidate the world to many of ourselves. In the Preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disability arises from “interactions between persons with disabilities and attitudes and environmental barriers that prevent them from participating fully and effectively in society on an equal basis with others”. I admit that Healthy people, please read this again. Obstacles are the very structure and operation of society, including stereotypes, prejudices, dogmas, and notions of normalcy.
In the book, visual storyteller Dhaatri Venugunad wonders why people expect sameness and homogeneity when heterogeneity is the natural order. Why isn’t there space for people who are different or do things differently? The answer is not easy to find. It requires deep introspection on multiple levels: individual, community, government and society.
The book presents multiple perspectives by engaging a diverse range of people at different levels, including people with disabilities, their friends, parents, caregivers, and community helpers such as educators. Divided into seven mini-books that flow seamlessly to present a cohesive picture of the disabled community in India and abroad.
Dyslexia, like the atypical, is a disorder that is often misunderstood. The specific learning disabilities, of which dyslexia is a subset, go beyond mispronunciation of “pqdb” and inability to write fast enough. It’s also about being different, seeing things differently, reacting to situations differently.
Each person is unique and has different disabilities. The condition of dyslexia is different from that of being blind or deaf. It is also actually different from other dyslexic conditions.
But disabled people seem to have a common thread. It is a system that is sympathetic but lacks empathy. Make a fuss about supporting individual differences, but put “success” in a straight jacket. It claims to bring people in, but some stand alone on the fringes of the mainstream.
A total of 37 stories, including interviews and personal accounts, sit over you like a thick layer of fog until you change your perception of what is normal.