Disability is more than a medical issue and for the first time in India, a massive open online course in Disability Studies aims to sensitise people about looking at disability as an essential aspect of human diversity.
Having a disability has a major role to play in the shaping of anyone’s life. It could be in a positive or negative way. Overcoming the challenges and and gaining confidence is something to be admired and society owes it to enable people with disabilities to experience a life they deserve.
Disability awareness can play a major role in this regard as it helps overcome stereotypes and develop empathy. It also gives everyone in society the opportunity to be a part of building an inclusive society for all. However, disability is seen by most people in India as mainly a medical issue. A perspective that shuts out it’s social, political, and cultural aspects.
Now for the first time in India, a massive online open course (MOOC) in Disability Studies is being offered. Conducting this is Dr Hemachandran Karah, faculty member atthe Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M). Dr Karah has been teaching Disability Studies for the last four years to students across disciplines.
In India, disabled people at the grassroots have done great work, when it comes to jobs, human rights, access to learning, school accommodations, etc. We are a developing society, economically and socially, so our problems are very different. Disability can be caused by factors like poor nutrition, accidents, maltreatment, etc. so disability studies is getting attention. – Dr Hemachandran Karah, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT Madras
The course, called Disability Studies – An Introduction, aims to capture the activism at grassroots level and inter-penetrate into other disciplines, with insights from across India and the West. “The idea is to not load it with jargon so this way people across disciplines, be it the sciences, medicine or literature, can understand it”, adds Dr Karah. The course will be accessible to people with visual and hearing impairments. There will be a textual transcription throughout and depending on the response, Dr Karah plans to have sign language interpreters in future courses.
The course is from mid-July to September. Assignments given will be objective in nature, so they can be understood by people from different educational backgrounds. The initial engagement will be kept simple with a scope to develop it further depending on feedback. “It is time to talk about disability openly and a structured course like this is important”, believes Dr Karah.
A large part of the course will feature extensive talks with a rich mix of people. This includes gender activists in disability and well-known academics Dr Anita Ghai and Dr Nandini Ghosh. There’s also Dr James Staples from England who spent over 30 years doing grassroots field work in leprosy in India, and Dr Michele Friedner, the renowned social and medical anthropologist, whose work looks into deafness and disability in urban India.
Disability rights advocate Dr Satendra Singh, who is among the experts to be interviewed, believes it will help reach out to people who are not sensitised to disability. “We need to reach out to the masses in the hope that society will change its attitude and behaviour. For that to happen and to make those inroads, we need more such courses. Considering that it is free, it will surely attract people”, says Dr Singh.
In his interview, Dr Singh hopes to highlight the aspect of Medical Humanities. “I am in an advantageous position being a disabled person with lived experience, a doctor with disability and a strong proponent of Medical Humanities (MH). Practitioners can help improve healthcare for disabled people through disability studies, a multi-disciplinary field from MH. Despite being a common goal, in India we see them running in parallel which never meets. I hope to bring that intersection so that we can humanise the patient-provider relationship”.
All of us will be disabled at some point in our lives and it is important to start thinking critically and carefully about disability to build empathy, and to make the world more accessible and accepting. Something a structured program like this could help foster.- Newz Hook