“Why can’t I endorse your fashion brand? Why can’t I market your attire? Why can’t I walk on your ramp? Why can’t I participate in a beauty pageant?”

All these questions pop up in my mind every time I see a fashion show or any advertisement on TV! From my teenage years, I have been fascinated by the glitz and glamour of the fashion world. Models sashaying down the ramp for a designer or celebrities promoting any product in television ads have always thrilled me.

I have always been an audience only and witnessed all this as a viewer, but have always had this lingering feeling of wanting to be on the other side of the television screen, for once!

Is anyone out there who could give me this opportunity? Ummmm… I have my doubts!

Am I being too skeptical? To understand my questions or skepticism, first you will have to understand who I am? I am Payal Kukreja and I am a person with disability. I am neither tall nor I can walk independently. I need a walking rollator (a walking aid) to ease in my mobility. But, I am still keen to be a model! Some of you may have raised your eyebrows and would murmur under your breadth how could I (a person with disability) think of something like this. Frankly speaking, I may have also thought so too!

No one should be blamed for thinking so! All of us have a set of standards and mental associations for everything and not everyone can go beyond it or alter these mental sets. The reason could be the kind of society in which we live, which has laid down a set of norms and ideals about disability and we as a part of this society blindly adhere to them always. The ones who do not sync with these ideals are often chucked out of the mainstream and they have to fight back or prove themselves to get their place back again.

When we mention ‘Fashion and Disability’ in the same line, people get influenced by their preconceived notions about these two terms. They believe that people with disabilities are not as good looking as abled bodied models and differently-abled models will not appeal much to the audience. They simply are not able to picture something like this!

But, I want to ask everyone that why I can’t correlate these two terms? Why can’t I walk with my walking aid on the ramp showcasing designer outfits? I suppose that there are no restrictions (written, verbal, or of any other kind!) and if there are any, I would be glad to know more about it. Infact, wearing designer clothes on my body along with proudly showcasing my physical challenge is appealing in itself. What is so different and difficult about it? Apart from anything else, the particular brand/individual will be able to attract more audience and promote inclusion in the Indian society!

Popular movies like Taare Zameen Par and Margarita With A Straw deal with the issue of disability and health disorder but do not feature people with disabilities in them.

I have rarely seen people with disabilities working in television commercials in India. However, in other developed places like America, people with disability are a prominent feature for such advertisements. If I have to advertise, say for example a ‘lipstick’, I don’t think it has anything to do with my mobility constraint. I have to wear that lipstick on my lips and it does not need my body movement on a whole. There could be many more similar examples! My physical limitations should not be a hindrance for most of the advertisements shown on television! There are so many advertising agencies in India, and yet we rarely see them promoting any model with a disability.

Even, the same mindset prevails in our movies. Several films have been made with ‘disability’ as a subject matter, and these movies have also been applauded by the audience apart from doing tremendous business at the box office (read Taare Zameen Par!). But, rarely do we see any person with disability being cast in these roles, which no actor can essay better than them! I am not against actors who play these roles, but giving opportunity to a person with special needs is not a bad idea.

Popular movies like Taare Zameen Par and Margarita With A Straw deal with the issue of disability and health disorder but do not feature people with disabilities in them.

Some of my friends reading this article will retort saying that beauty pageants are being organized for people with disabilities in India, off late. Indeed! I am fully aware that these events do happen in India, though not on such a large scale. But what after the pageant is over? I mean what do we actually get after being a part of such organized events?

One of my friends (a person with disability) who had participated in a similar event related to ‘Fashion and Disability’ a while back, revealed the following to me:

Though I was the first runner-up in the competition, yet I still ended up getting a gift hamper only. I was hoping that I would receive some advertisement projects. Even the winner was only awarded a holiday trip or a chance to participate in a similar event only. These events only boost our morale but don’t do anything to shape our career in this field. No one from this field comes forward to support us.”

This conversation led me to another question that why do we (people with disabilities) need a beauty pageant to be organized ONLY for us? Why can’t we participate in regular beauty pageants with other able-bodied models and get a fair chance to fight for our future? Moreover, someone like me walking the ramp next to an abled bodied model will define the term “inclusion” in its true sense.

I am not here to question the fabrics of our social system or to teach anyone anything! This is just a fervent appeal to all the people, and especially to those from this industry, to think beyond just the ‘normal’ both physically and psychologically. Fashion designers or others from the glam industry should come forward to guide us and help us in grooming ourselves. It should not be meant as a charity or sympathy of any kind. We just need an opportunity to prove our potential. We are all well versed with ‘Permutations and Combinations’, from our mathematics classes, but it’s not of any use until we do not apply it’s concepts in our real life.

Our bodies may be affected to some extent but our dreams and desires are not. I am penning this article hoping to start a conversation about taking people with disability more seriously and helping them find sustainability in life and not just sympathy!

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