Embracing my roles: an independent woman with visual and hearing impairment- by Shrutilata Singh, Advocacy Officer at Sense International India
When we hear the word “Independent” most of us relate it with freedom. For me and those who are like me, it is about being able to do things without being dependent on others.
Like any other teenage girl, I was also lost, unsure of what I wanted to do. When I was growing up, I always knew that I wanted to do something meaningful in life and not be confined to my home all my life.
Unlike others, I wasn’t sure what will be possible owing to my low self-esteem as I had grown to believe that no one wanted to be friends with me, given, I was both visually and hearing impaired. I was always scared to go out of my home alone. Even today, I do not explore much when I visit my parents’ home.
Living independently, living alone or with friends away from home was a distant dream that I thought I would never have in life. I always knew I wanted to experience it all. I wanted to live life just like everyone else.
Today as I turn 30, I reflect back to the 30 years of my life and how I transformed from a timid, introvert girl who was dependent on family to a fully independent woman who can take care of her friends when required and take up bigger responsibilities at work as well.
The transformation did not happen overnight. It took a long time. It was a very slow process. I had to work first on myself, my self-esteem, my belief, and my fear and convince my family to let me be independent.
Today, I can now manage my finance, move around independently for work and visit friends, shop around for what I like, and feel responsible for myself. It does make me a lot happy to know that I can live on my own without the need to depend on others.
Recently I had to miss a day of a team meeting that happened in Goa due to some personal reason and so I joined them the next day but what makes me happy is to know that I was able to make the whole trip on my own.
I do need some support as communication still remains my biggest challenge but I always find ways to deal with it. I like it when I have a “sense of responsibility” because it pushes me to try harder and better.
I remember the day two years back when I was given the responsibility of accompanying another young girl with deaf blindness right from India to Bern in Switzerland to attend a conference on the World Data Forum. Although it was difficult for me also, it was not impossible. It was my biggest responsibility till date but it made me realize that I can also support others and help them in contributing better and I am not the one who only needs help and cannot contribute.
I dislike it when people treat me like a baby and become overprotective because they think I need support all the time. I want to remind people that we do not need to be spoon feed. We can also do things our way. We just need you to teach us how to handle things and ensure that there are safer and more accessible ways to do it.
Ten years back I was worried if I would ever be able to travel alone or not. Girls who were only visually impaired were much more independent as they did not face any communication challenges. I could hardly go anywhere on my own and needed someone to go with me to the shop because for women like me with the most important senses to receive information is affected to such an extent that we do not get information the way others do, safety remains the biggest concern after accessibility.
Today I can travel to most places thanks to GPS tracking system and e-auto and bikes that makes me feel safe and independent. I commute to and from the office 7km (one way) daily. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with the driver but I always manage because I have to try. I can even pick up or drop off my colleagues when needed when we have to travel for work. It gives me the feeling that I am just like any other individual and not a subject for “pity” by others.
I play different roles both in my professional and personal life. I am a girl, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, and friend and someday I will also be a wife, a mother, and probably a grandmother too. I will have a lot more roles to play and I want to experience it, live it just the way everyone else does.
Being an advocate for people with deaf blindness, I encourage all, especially girls to be as much independent as possible. I know that the parents of most of them will not allow it because of the concern of safety but that overprotection will only turn those deaf blind people into “vegetative” making them more vulnerable after the parents are no more around.
Life is short, the world is small. We all must start encouraging others to be independent, be the individual they wish to become, and be an example for others. That day when I was traveling by myself to Goa, I sat there waiting to board, and the only thing that I could think about was those girls out there who long want to be independent, and travel alone but are forced to stay at one place within the watchful eyes of family and relatives because they all have this dual sensory loss that makes them think they will not be able to do anything.
Yes, we are vulnerable that is why we want the place to be safe and accessible. I wondered how we can teach all those girls to start taking the support that is available to us and be as independent as possible.
If I reflect on my experience, I see that I learned because I had to, I needed to travel as everyone cannot be there all the time. All we need is opportunities and the will to try to be independent. Two years back on August 15th, I celebrated independence day when for the first time I was able to find ways to communicate with a fruit vendor and buy those which I liked, and that I did without any friend’s help. These are small achievements I cherish in my life.
Nothing is impossible. We just need to go for it, grab it and prove that we are no different.
Author Shrutilata Singh
Advocacy Officer at Sense International India
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Dhrov Tikoo