Shivani Gupta, author of ‘No Looking Back – a true story’, is the founder of AccessAbility, and one of India’s best-known access consultants. With post graduate degrees in inclusive environments (design and management) from the UK, and diplomas in architecture technology and hotel management, Shivani has spent most of her professional life in working towards improving accessibility of public spaces such as educational institutions, hotels and retail and other commercial spaces in India. She has undertaken research on issues related to accessibility in India and contributed to policies for disabled persons in the country.
No Looking Back – a true story by Shivani Gupta was published by Rupa Publications. Here is an excerpt from the story.
Understanding disability itself was not easy. My understanding thus far had been based on what I had seen in the society that I was part of, and I struggled to dispel the images of helplessness it brought. With my first-hand experience, there appeared to be a strong contradiction between what I thought disability was and how I felt as a disabled person. I did require assistance to do things, but I didn’t feel completely helpless. In spite of my impairment, there was still a lot I thought I could do. I felt like the same person inside; it was just my physical appearance that made me uncomfortable about facing people. While on the one hand I wanted to hide away, on the other I longed to experience the world after being indoors for so long.
It was ten months after the accident that, for the first time,I felt strong enough to go to the local market with Putul (my full time carer). She pushed me on my manual wheelchair and took me to buy bathing soap. That little task, which for twenty-two-odd years I had taken for granted, now seemed something exhilarating,requiring guts. Having someone push my wheelchair was not a pleasant notion; it seemed to evoke a feeling of pity,symbolizing my dependence—it was not what I wanted for myself. My spirit gave me the courage to step out, but my body made me conscious and tried holding me back. I was nervous about meeting anyone who might recognize me from my walking days. I was sure their questions would make me feel worse about myself.
At the end of the day, however, there was an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I felt in having been outside and faced the world. I couldn’t compare it with any other achievement in my past. It wasn’t so difficult after all, I thought. Of course, the stares of strangers made me squirm; but if I was able to ignore that, it wasn’t so bad. I could no longer enter the shop on my wheelchair since it had two steps, and I had to learn to be satisfied with just sitting outside while my carer shopped for me. But I didn’t mind that—adjustment and acceptance were my mantra. In my own eyes, I was a winner,and my award was the soap bar I had purchased. Excitedly, I told my grandmother to tell me to buy whatever she needed from the local stores rather than troubling my grandfather. There was finally something I could do for them.
It was these small pleasures, which to others may seem frivolous, that made me persevere. It was the accumulation of countless such little achievements over a long period of time that helped me to convince myself that my inabilities were not reflective of me; rather, it was all my abilities that defined me. I had embarked on a journey to get better. The final destination was not known to me, but what was exciting was the journey itself. While the prognosis for how independent I might become physically was not good, these small successes allowed me to never look at only how bad the situation was. They made me concentrate on what I could do to make my situation better. I had truly started living for the day.
Outwardly, my body looked weak. But internally, I felt stronger, taking charge for the first time in my life. It was difficult to fit myself into the picture of a disabled person painted by society. I was determined to draw a line between my physical condition and my spirit, which seemed so much stronger than my body.