New Delhi – In America, a country where one of the most admired presidents, FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), spent 3 terms in office in a wheelchair, culturally accepted ostracism and exploitation of a person with a disability is incomprehensible.
In that part of the world, accomplishments of persons with disabilities are cheered, irrespective of their gender, and their path to success is paved with handicapped accessible routes. Special accommodations are provided by the government for education, healthcare, and financial security, while equal opportunity in housing and employment is guaranteed by law.
In contrast, in most of the developing and underdeveloped countries, where there is a preference for a male child, a girl with a disability comes as a double burden.
A disabled woman may be a victim of a paradoxical situation, where poverty can lead to increased disability, and disability increases her poverty. Lack of knowledge, awareness and illiteracy may further worsen the situation. Women with a physical impairment are employed at lower rates than disabled men and have less access to rehabilitation and education, and often little economic security.
An additional risk for disabled women concerns reproductive health. Forced sterilization may be performed for eugenic reasons and cases of feticide and infanticide are more common in women with disabilities. There is an increased risk for sexual abuse and with it, an increased risk of HIV and AIDS.
Sentenced to a life of disability, a woman in India must also face a life of rejection, leaving her confidence in tatters. She may never experience herself as a girlfriend, a wife or a mother. Not only are freedom, education, and employment often inaccessible to her, but love, care, and the possibility of a relationship may also remain elusive.
Unable to establish a romantic relationship, this loss becomes the singular most profound of the many losses. She may be beautiful, she may be more intelligent than her non-disabled counterparts, but the underlying reality of her life is a lifetime exclusion from romantic and other long term relationships. She can be the best friend of a man, but not a girlfriend.
Thus, she is pushed to the background and relegated to the status of a roleless creature. Rolelessness here pertains to the idea that women with disabilities are often seen as being excluded from normal gender roles.
She encounters both ableism and sexism, ableism, because she appears to be childlike due to her lifelong infantalization by her parents’ overprotective attitude; and sexism, because she does not conform to the stereotypical canons of femininity on account of her disability.
Neglected, and even unwanted by society, and tormented by internal conflicts, she can develop into a cynical being, prone to adopt self destructive strategies and can develop many mental problems.
Social isolation and limited roles can also lead to overcompensation, where the disabled woman works hard to achieve the best grades in school, tries to earn an advanced education, and develops leadership skills. She wants to experience her own ambitions as interesting and her own social contributions as worthy. However, this effort can take an enormous toll on her mental and already limited physical reserves.
As a result of society’s neglect of the disabled woman as a human resource and the community’s failure to use this resource judiciously, a woman with a disability can become a burden for that community, making her live a life of subhuman quality.