Saturday, September 23

Unwitting victims of other people’s misconduct


A GREAT number of people I am acquainted with use Facebook. This is mostly how we share information, communicate with each other and express ourselves nowadays. Living up to its title as the king of social media, Facebook by far is the most popular social networking site and one that has revolutionised the way we relate to the world around us.

The ease with which we can reach out to a wider audience makes it a very convenient all-purpose self-publicity tool. As with all things, there is good and bad to it. While spoken words are fleeting to those within earshot, messages posted on Facebook can be shared multiple times in a wink and get read by a multitude of people they may not be intended for, depending on the privacy settings of the account.

With this social tool, we have become more vocal than we ever were. We bare our lives and souls to friends and strangers alike. Where we were always mindful of our speech in public, our thoughts oftentimes flow unrepressed online. These open windows into the psyches of people from diverse backgrounds have also given me exasperatingly deep insights of the general perceptions society has of disabled persons.

Someone in my friends list thought it witty to equate asinine politicians with disabled persons. I agree with the view that some politicians are not grounded to the expectations we demand of them as public servants. Time and again, we cringed at the puerile statements that spewed forth from their mouths. Nonetheless, was there really a need to swear at their shortcomings by labelling them as ‘OKU’ (disabled persons)?

In another instance, one of the comments to a video of a snatch thief who was apprehended went like this: “You have hands and legs but do not want to work. Better be an OKU.” Again, it boggled my mind how that was deemed a justified analogy between disabled persons and people who do not want to find decent work.

Let us not forget that one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of our time is Stephen Hawking. He is living with severe physical and speech impairments. Closer to home, our very own Hasihin Sanawi, a paraplegic, bagged a silver medal at the London Paralympic Games. This is a feat not many of us can achieve. These are people who have worked hard to be where they are now. And mind you, they are OKUs.

What is even more disturbing is that some disabled persons have no qualms about using similar slurs on drivers who abuse accessible parking spaces. The image of a German marque caught occupying such a spot without a wheelchair sticker on its windscreen appeared in my Facebook timeline. Among others, a wheelchair user called the driver “cacat otak” (person with intellectual impairment).

Another two terms that I see being used often are “retard” and “mentally retarded”. Both were previously used to refer to persons with intellectual impairments but are no longer considered appropriate now. Although the inherent intention of people using these terms was to imply that inconsiderate people are stupid and thoughtless, it demeaned disabled persons by linking us to those unpleasant characteristics.

From these accounts, it is apparent that we, as a disadvantaged community, are seen as immature, useless and inconsiderate, even by other disabled persons with different impairments. The tendency to associate us with these traits may have been done in jest or meant to be an actual insult. Either way, I find that downright offensive. It is especially hurtful when it was lobbed by one of us against our own.

I used to step in to point out the inappropriateness of the language. Most people understand after listening to my explanation. Still, there are the few who took offence and accused me of trying to impose my norms on them and stifle their freedom of speech which was never my intention. I allowed them be because engaging them further would make them even more recalcitrant.

We are often tarred with the same brush used for people who are reviled due to deep-set prejudices. Just because we have impairments, we are seen as incapable of leading a meaningful and fulfilling lives. Disabled persons in general are still the innocent victims in these cases twice over; first of systemic barriers that society is in no hurry to dismantle, and second of blinkered mindsets that assume we can amount to nothing, a situation which is caused by the systemic barriers in the first place. It is a vicious cycle.

In reality, we are no different from anyone else. We have feelings. We can be hurt. We have ambitions. We are not exempt from failure. We want to love and be loved. And just like everyone else, we do not fancy being used as fodder for jokes and abuse aimed at other people for their bad behaviour. That by itself is bad behaviour too, and rude. Therefore, I sincerely urge people who are prone to using terms like OKU and mentally retarded to insult another person to please stop and think who they are actually humiliating.

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