If all flowers were lilies, would we admire them as much? The question of human ability isn’t bound, it can vary with deformities from the birth or later in life, but it is more about how as humans we view the world and what our purpose is. Differently-abled individuals make up about 15% of the world population. More unique and diverse than your regular stereotypes, these folks have shown the world that their abilities or lack thereof, doesn’t stop them from doing more than the regularly abled folks. The world around them has also adapted to their necessities, whether it is the well-engraved or starkly-embossed figures on currency notes and elevator buttons, to ergonomically designed clothing and furniture for the disabled, we’re embracing different needs. At the same time, people with disability are breaking the stereotypes through different mediums, an imperative one is sports.
The Paralympics at Rio had the largest Indian contingent representing the country, bringing in four medals to the country. Sport is constantly empowering differently-abled people to explore their inner talents and bring laurels for their nation. Over the past three decades, studies have shown that sports participation can result in better functional status and quality of life for differently abled people by developing self-confidence, social awareness, self-esteem, and a sense of independence.
Despite a cultural mindset stuck in thinking about differently abled individuals in a stereotypical manner, organizations and events like the Paralympics have proven to shake these perspectives for the better. Devendra Jhajharia who is India's only athlete to win two individual gold medals at the Olympic level was the first para-athlete to set the world record in the javelin throw in 2004. According to him times are changing now, “In 2004, the scenario was different. Nobody knew para-sports, there was hardly any government support. But the medal in 2016 was very different.” While growing up in his native village in Rajasthan, Devendra was the victim of an ill-fated accident when he was eight years old. He accidentally touched a live electric cable and was electrocuted. Despite being given immediate medical attention, the incident resulted in the amputation of the left arm. He went on to become the first Indian to win a Paralympic Gold and has never stopped ever since. Devendra thanked GoSports Foundation after the 2016 event for their support for para-athletes.
"It’s sad that every time we say Paralympics, we have to add that it's Olympic Paralympics. It’s still not understood that Paralympics means an Olympic level competition. I’m glad that these functions are happening now and not just us but the legacy and history of the Paralympics is being recognized," Deepa Malik, India's first woman Paralympic medallist remarked after winning silver in shot put. Deepa was diagnosed with a spinal tumor, after which she was left paralyzed from the chest during a procedure to remove the same. Deepa fought the social norms and prejudices that society holds for women and differently abled people to turn to sports at the age of 36. Devendra and Deepa are both Padma Shri awardees, the fourth highest civilian award in the country.
Many foundations including, the Agitos Foundation, Home Parasport, Aditya Mehta Foundation are working towards training the differently-abled to compete in para-athletic sports. Inclusivity helps to bring out the best in people by embracing the diversity, the differences, and the unique ‘abilities’.
What are your thoughts and experiences? Calling out to all our amazing sports-persons with the disability to write their experience in the comments below.