Deconstructing Disability

Ishita Dahiya converses with Dr.Honey Arya, who despite her disabilities, broke many stereotypes and today she is an inspiration to young minds.

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing’ – Hellen Keller

To mark the celebration of the 26th International Day of Persons with Disabilities, here is a story of a woman who is a guiding light to many students to pursue their dreams and nurtures them in achieving their potential. This teacher is no different than others, yet she stands out not because of her disability but because of her abilities.

Dr. Honey Arya is someone who I look up to as she personifies strength and courage. In a country like ours, where we are struggling to get equal rights for Persons with Disabilities and deconstructing gender norms. Her story acts as a change agent in bringing the desired pragmatic attitude and incites a dialogue to be mindful of all diversity.

To many of us, the typical thought of disability is that it limits the opportunity of a person in adapting to his/her social environment and brings lifelong dependency. The whole idea of “normalcy” has made Disability a taboo in the society. Such thought, not only isolates but also elevates the discrimination on grounds of Ableism. However, this never deterred Dr. Honey Arya in achieving her dreams.

Dr. Arya is a person with an orthopedic impairment. She was diagnosed with polio when she was three years old. Her journey to success was not easy, she has worked hard to break stereotypes and have landed herself in a position today, where she inspires many young bright minds.

In a heart to heart conversation with her, she spoke to me about her ordeals that she has faced in life because of the stigma around disability, yet she maintains that she was extremely lucky to be born in such a family that supported her throughout and let her blossom as any other normal child would. “I was born into a middle-class family in Nangal (NFL) town. I have done my B.A, M.A, B.Ed, MPhill and Ph.D. History from Punjab University, Chandigarh. I also hold a diploma certificate in German and Urdu language. Ever since childhood, I was always competitive and academically inclined. I have stood first in all my courses. I was commissioned into Kendriya Vidyalaya as a PRT in 1986, in my thirty-two years of service; I have been awarded twice for producing excellent teaching work. Among the two, I am the holder of the prestigious President award that was given to me in 2007 from then honorable President.”

She quotes, her mantra to success is having a strong willpower to do anything in life; ‘I always had the willpower in me to become an independent woman. I wanted to be a working woman.  I never wanted any sympathy from anyone so I accepted myself the way God had created me and embraced it. I took my life as a challenge. I didn’t do all this to prove any point but to stay in this society and have my representation’ Dr. Arya also said that she had a strong family support system, and they were instrumental in helping her achieve her goals. ‘Well, I think I just had the will to survive. I never took my disability as my limitation. I always regarded it as my strength. I realized this very early on in life that, I was not going to get any facilities or opportunity to my door-step. Therefore, I created opportunities for myself and I did what one could never imagine. I didn’t bow before the world; I made the world bow before me. My parents, my husband, and my siblings have been an integral part of this journey’ In 2018, we are moving into the era of Inclusive education, where we are talking about education as a fundamental right for every child irrespective of caste, class, gender and disability etc, studying together under one roof.

Being a teacher and a person with a disability, she shared her view on the current scenario in schools and emphasized on the sensitization of the peer and teachers toward children with disability. “Not every teacher cooperates with children with special needs. I know the struggle of being in an inclusive classroom; I have faced it during my growing up years. I could never go for my morning prayers because of my disability and no one even cared to make ramps and furniture that suited my physical mobility. Things haven’t changed much even after forty years. We still fail to provide basic needs to children with disabilities in regular schools. We are enrolling them but we are not giving them the environment to grow”.

Dr. Arya strongly feels that we need to have more and more children with disabilities in schools studying with the non-disabled peer to create awareness and sensitize from the beginning to be mindful of all kinds of diversity. “Children are the future, they must be taught well”. It is important today, that we all come together and initiate the dialogue on Disability. A person with a disability has unique needs and if provided with a supporting and enriching environment they can grow and contribute equally to the society. Dr. Arya is one fine example of a successful woman despite her disability. We have more and more individuals of her caliber who need encouragement and societal support to achieve their potential. It’s time that we as a society shoulder the responsibility in creating inclusive spaces for a person with disabilities and uplift each other by bringing in equity.

‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’ – Hellen Keller