09/07/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

You Hold The Key To My Freedom

Shutterstock / pryzmat

My mother's grip on the wheelchair handles tightened as our neighbour smiled uneasily at me. I knew my neighbour's smile was not for my good hair but to remind me I am different. My mother hurriedly, albeit gently, pushed me (and my wheelchair) towards the entrance of the building, away from a disabled mindset.

The squeaking sound of the wheelchair was suddenly muted as we confronted the steep stairs at the entrance of the building, a conspicuous example of architectural inaccessibility inconspicuous to people without disabilities.

My mother was sweating profusely by the time we had reached our obstacle course - the pavement.

As she manoeuvred the wheelchair along an uneven and pothole-ridden pavement I heard a soft clicking sound from my wheelchair; it reminded me of a time when I used to tape a playing card on my bicycle spoke to make it sound like a motorbike.

I looked down to see that plastic covers strewn on the pavement had gotten stuck to the wheelchair and were causing the sound. Before I could bring her attention to it, the wheelchair came to a halt but the pedestrians behind us didn't; they jolted us and almost knocked me off the pavement.

We waited for the crowd and its frenzy to abate and reached the bus stop at our own pace. We waited and waited. The bus stop was desolate by the time a low-floor bus arrived.

"The door to the world outside is locked by government and public apathy, disdain and discrimination."

The bus hadn't stopped close enough to the kerb and as my mother flexed her muscles to help me get on board, I heard a commuter mutter under her breath, "Oh! What a nuisance! I hope that thing doesn't make me late." Her reaction was bittersweet to me. I was acknowledged as an object of nuisance but acknowledged nonetheless.

My mother wheeled me from the bus-stop to the examination centre. Prying eyes followed me. Their metaphoric crooked beaks were silhouetted against the blue sky ready to peck me apart with their tactless questions, idle pity and patronisation but I only paid attention to the squeaking sound of the wheelchair and the moment it stopped I looked up to see a flight of stairs. I closed my eyes and imagined myself nonchalantly walking up that flight of stairs.

I felt gently grip my shoulders. I opened my eyes, and with an unwavering voice my mother asked me, "Are you ready?"

The world I knew had schools, theatres, restaurants that served over-priced food and over-crowded buses but the world I know has only four white walls. The door to the world outside is locked by government and public apathy, disdain and discrimination. You hold the key to that door. With awareness we can make demands, demands that will lead to effective laws that will make everything accessible to everyone.

When education becomes accessible, our performance becomes the only question that needs answering, the only difference that matters.

Turn the key to the right and open that door.

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