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Turning disability into strength

Whether it’s congenital or accidental, disability is a blight that can amputate the spirit of a human being. Imagine, not being able to see the colours of nature, or not being able to hear the sounds of the world, or walk on the seashore with a loved one. It would seem unfair, rather cruel. But the burden of disability feels even heavier when one is a parent. What could be more painful for a parent than to not be able to see or hear their child, or hold them in their arms because they cannot? There isn’t any prosthetic for a heart that breaks upon realising that their disability stands in the way of experiencing the joy of parenthood.

But no matter how dark the clouds of such a disappointment, the silver lining of a never-give-up attitude can mend a broken heart. A subtle shift in perspective can liberate a psyche bogged down by the dejection of being disabled. To understand the challenges and struggles of being a disabled parent, Soulveda met a few extraordinary parents who were willing to share their stories.

  • Life as a differently-abled parent…

    Mahantesh Kivadasannavar: I don’t feel disability is a big issue in parenting. It all depends on how you perceive disability, and how you express it in front of your children. Yes, disability often brings shortcomings in life but you can always offset it with additional skills or knowledge. If you manage to do that, you don’t have to worry about anything.

    Talking about disability…

    Mahantesh Kivadasannavar: My kids grew up seeing my visual impairment. When they asked me about it, I told them in jest that I used to watch a lot of TV when I was their age and that eventually damaged my eyes. On a serious note, I haven’t faced any difficulty while talking about disability to my children. They already seem to know what my needs are. For instance, they hold my hand when I am walking or climbing the steps, and they explain movie scenes before I even ask them to.

    Turning disability into strength…

    Mahantesh Kivadasannavar: I feel disability helps you identify your inner strength, hone it and wield it to compensate for the impairment. You also meet a lot of good people who want to help you rather than just pray for you. And as your inner circle expands, so does your motivation to contribute to society.

    Advice to parents with disability…

    Mahantesh Kivadasannavar: Talk to your children about your disability without pretence. Let them accept you for who you are and treat you like any other human being. Never hesitate to tell them what you need. At the same time, encourage them to ask questions too. Whatever happens, don’t let your disability become an obstacle between you and your children.

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    Born in 1970, Mahantesh Kivadasannavar lost his vision due to Typhoid when he was six months old. He started his career as an English lecturer at University Law College, Bangalore. He co-founded Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled that provides education, livelihood facilities, infrastructure, technology and other need-based support to the disabled and the underprivileged.
  • Our daughter and the hearing aid…

    Navneet Bhardwaj: My wife and I can’t hear anything without the hearing aid, so we must wear it all the time except while sleeping. When our daughter Ananya was a few months old, it got really challenging for us. We had to wear the hearing aid even at night since without it we couldn’t tell whether the baby was asleep, awake or crying. I, therefore, caught a serious infection in my ears and the doctor advised me not to wear the aid constantly. As challenging as it can be for someone in my shoes, thanks to the support of my wife and our parents, we sailed through it.

    A learning process for Ananya…

    Navneet Bhardwaj: My two-year-old daughter Ananya has always seen me with the hearing aid. And so, somehow, she already knows I need it to respond. It’s a learning process for her. For instance, when I am not wearing the aid, my daughter pulls it out from the box and hands it to me. Perhaps a couple of years down the line she might ask questions about it. But I don’t think it would be difficult to make her understand her parents’ disability. That being said, I am not planning to give her a lecture on it. We should give space to children so they can learn things naturally and ask questions when they are ready.

    The opportunity in disguise…

    Navneet Bhardwaj: For me, disability is not about weakness, strength or karma. It’s a reality one must face and rise above. Personally, I feel disability has given me an opportunity to prove myself and manage my life better. As a child, when I started using the hearing aid, I didn’t have any idea what it was for. As I grew up, I realised my life couldn’t function efficiently without it. At school, there were challenges. But soon, I learned that I must rise above challenges if I want to lead a successful and independent life.

    What other parents can do…

    Navneet Bhardwaj: Here’s my advice to other disabled parents out there: accept who you are. Give your child space and comfort. Today, there are many solutions available that could help you transcend your disability. Just make sure your disability doesn’t come between your children and your love for them.

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    Navneet Bhardwaj is an IT professional, and an enthusiast of country motorcycling, sports and photography. Despite a sensorineural hearing disability in both the ears since the age of 3, he believes in living life to the fullest. He is married and has a two-year-old daughter.