Time to change the lens on disability - My Take by Ashok Kr Balakrishnan, Actor-Choreographer-Disability Rights Activist

In My Take this week, well-known choreographer and actor Ashok Kumar Balakrishnan talks about how he decided to become an advocate for disability rights. Why did someone, who comes from a profession that is pulled up for its portrayals of people with disabilities, decide to take up this cause?

Acting, like any other profession, is a means of livelihood. I am also a choreographer and in such a hectic world, the basic essence of being human often gets lost in the materialistic aspect of daily living.

My eyes were opened to the world of the disabled at an event organized by The Headway Foundation. I met the founder Raghavi Shankar there and for the first time I had the opportunity to meet specially, differently, fantastically abled people.

Their physical challenges are the last thing I noticed. There were people who have represented India in sports events and won medals. I saw a designer, someone who is creating employment opportunities for others - talented people from different professions.

It was an insightful moment, one that forced me to look deeply into myself. I realized that it was we, the so-called able bodied, who are actually handicapped. It was the people I saw around that day who were handi-capable. I realized that as a society we needed to be much more responsible towards people with disabilities.

The problem is that people are unaware, and events like these help us to learn, un-learn, and re-learn a lot of things. They open our eyes in many different ways. We don’t look beyond ourselves or wish to engage outside of our worlds.

Society, and therefore by extension, our films, tend to look at people who are different, be it the disabled, or the queer, in a stereotypical way. We need to change that perspective, especially with respect to the disabled.

It’s not about sympathy, but empathy. We have to see that they are not lesser, but ahead of everyone else in terms of what they can do. Given the challenges they face, they have far greater grit and determination.

By opening our world to include them, we are not doing an act of charity. The equality has to be genuine.

In fact, I don’t like the word ‘disability’. The disability is the sympathetic attitude they get from people. There is a plethora of possibilities. Inclusion is the key. They will grow in their own right!

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