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This morning as usual I awoke up at 7 AM in order to coach (volunteer) the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team. This is something that I’ve done for more than a year. However, today was different. Eight days ago, for the third time since I came to Nepal as a VSO volunteer in June 2012, I injured myself playing basketball. The first time in  August 2012,  I had a hairline fracture in my left foot, had a plaster,  crutches and  couldn’t play for three months;  the second time in August 2013,  I bruised my left hand and had a soft  cast for  six weeks and now there is a soft cast around  my  left knee and I’m  again using crutches after  straining some ligaments.  At 57 years of age, some friends tell me it’s time to stop playing, but given my absolute love for basketball I just can’t.  Maybe I could, at minimum, play  with guys my own age but won’t  happen in Nepal; the guys that I play with, although it is half court, are in the same age range as my children, 20’s,  and when I last played I was guarding a big guy.   I take this as a challenge but somehow there is much more to it.

Disability is something that I’ve become very intimately involved with.  As many of my friends know, volunteering at the National Trust  in India from April 2009-February 2012 first brought me into contact with the disability community. But it became more than facilitating capacity building workshops for NGOs working on disability issues or coordinating the India wide Badhte Kadam  awareness raising campaign.  For me it became quite personal.

My mother Simone, at 80, uses a walker and has hearing aids.  At some point, we all become elderly and have to depend on various devices to provide quality of life; on some level, we all have or are heading towards having a disability.  I have a myriad of friends in both India and Nepal, and even a few in the US, who have some form of disability.   When I’m with these American friends, although they might see differently, I see few barriers for them to lead a mainstream life.  However in India and Nepal it is much more of a struggle.

Today while “walking” with my crutches for support, I hardly found any level ground.  While trying to cross the street and although I was already in the middle of the road, I had to point my left crutch directly at a car window in order to get the driver to stop.  Although some people seemed to really want to help me with, e.g.  Getting into a tempo, other people seemed to look at me with pity. I’m not sure how Persons with Disability or the elderly can take public transportation or even get around, as accessibility is a major issue. 

The more that I tend to have a disability, although hopefully temporary, the more I’ve come to appreciate what my friends with disability go through on a daily basis.  Sristi is an incredible dancer, having just spent seven months in India, learning to be an entrepreneur and has started her own business. She just came back from Russia where she was invited to dance and for the first time skied and skated.  Sristi has been blind since she was 16.  Himal is a remarkable athlete, artist and so much more.  He is the captain of a Nepal Army Basketball Team and has traveled to other countries to participate in international weightlifting competitions.  Himal, and many of his teammates, was wounded in the Nepal People’s War and will never walk again.  Bharat is also an athlete, a person quick to smile but he was shot and will never walk again.  Bharat and some friends formed the Nepal Wheelchair Rugby Association and in 2012 he traveled to Korea to learn about the game.  I have friends who run the Disability Legislation Unit (Chennai) at the NGO Vidya Sagar which was set up in collaboration with NCPEDP in September 2003. The Unit works towards influencing both policy-makers and the grass roots communities to change perceptions of 'disability' in society.  I have friends living with disabilities in Assam working at Shishu Sarothi and in almost every state throughout India. 

For Martin Luther King, Jr.  Day  2014 the American Embassy   in Nepal held a session, mainly attended by  Persons with Disabilities,  on disability access,  as discussed by a friend of mine, Ananta Baidya in which he showed photos of the restrooms, accessible, in his home airport in San Diego ,  contrasted with the  restrooms, inaccessible, at Tribhuvan International Airport[1].    The point was that thinking and then doing something about accessibility made the difference.  The key to this talk though was that Persons with Disabilities, must not divide themselves by the type of disability which they possess, but must model an inclusive society. 

Sitting at the MLK, Jr Day talk I was included as, although temporarily, a Person with Disability. I was part of the group of people who were blind, deaf and sitting in a wheelchair; I was part of an “inclusive society” even if it was just in one room of the Embassy.

Today I moved much more slowly, observing the world around me, and thought a lot about how my mother moves, as she has to stop frequently due to her use of a walker.  Today,   I was able to take more into my consciousness, as I had to move much more slowly, just trying to avoid the many pitfalls in the roads and sidewalks.  I also thought a lot about what a shopkeeper said to me last night when she saw my (temporary) condition, i.e.  “I hope that you get well soon”. 

In fact I will be playing again, but it doesn’t matter if I’m on my feet or like many of my friends in their wheelchairs.  It is more about having opportunities no matter who one is and no matter what type of disability society sees us with.  But ultimately, opportunities are created by society.   Just imagine more what the world would be like with more inclusion.  Maybe in fact “seeing” a person’s disability would disappear and Sristi would only be a dancer, Himal and Bharat would be star athletes and me, well, an ageing basketball player who refuses to put up his high tops. 


[1] See KTM Post Saturday January 25,  Access Denied


Position: Lover of Life-Change Agent

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