I was on my way back to school after my winter vacation. In Phuntsholing, we had to come to the bus terminal so early in the morning to catch the bus to Samdrup Jongkhar. During those days, we used to have 1st bus, 2nd bus and so on and I and my late father had got our tickets in the 2nd bus which would leave at around 5:30 am. It used to take more than 12 hours to reach the destination and hence, it was the longest and most tedious journey. So I and my late father checked out of our hotel-room at around 4:30 am in the morning and got to the bus station well ahead of the departure time.
As we were waiting at the bus terminal, an illiterate woman approached us with a bus ticket in her hand and asked me if I could help her identify her bus to Samdrup Jongkhar. Since I was wearing dark glasses, I think she didn’t notice I was blind. I could have sought my late father’s help but he too was illiterate. So I told her in Sharchhop that since it was still dark, I couldn’t see properly what was written in her ticket and advised her to ask somebody else. I told her that I have some vision problems and I can’t see properly in the dark. She thanked me and left.
Finally, it was time to board the bus. I and my late father had got our ticket numbers: 57 and 58 which were situated in the last row of seats. As we were settling down in our seats, the same woman once again approached me with the ticket and asked me to help her find her seat in the bus. She told me she was in the same bus and that number was somewhere in 40’s. Once again, I could not reveal my disability. Instead I looked up and pretended reading the seat numbers of the last row of seats since I had heard that the numbers of the last row of seats were printed up at the back unlike other seats whose numbers would be printed just at the back of each seat. I told her “57 and 58 are here. So, yours could be in the front only, and you could ask somebody in the front to help you.” She complied and left. However, my late father was not aware of what was going on between me and that woman as he didn’t understand Sharchhop. I think the woman realized I was blind only when I went out with my father when we stopped for lunch because she never came back to me afterwards.
Although I was too young at that time, I feel it was so stupid of me to hide my disability in such a manner. I should have simply told her I was blind, but I don’t know what really held my guts back at that time. I think I was not able to fully accept my disability because as a teenager, I still remember how much I hesitated to respond when people asked me if I was blind. I think this was the main reason why we refused to use white canes when we were in school despite the knowledge that it was an important mobility tool for blind people. Although the world knew I was blind, I had always wanted to act like sighted friends not realizing that bumping into something or somebody, or falling down were indeed more shameful than actually accepting the disability and using the white cane to safely navigate around. Today, I have learned to accept my disability fully and I no longer hesitate to tell people that I am blind. I no longer have to carry the guilt of hiding my disability and telling lies to people. Recently I called one of the suppliers in Thimphu and asked him if the list of stationery I had personally given to one of his staff earlier was ready. He was not sure about it and asked me if the staff I had met had dark complexion. He burst into laughter when I told him I am blind and that I couldn’t see his face. Later I felt great that I could do this. But sometimes I also fear that some people might think we are using our disability as an excuse to seek sympathy although that’s never our intention. We always say “We don’t want sympathy; we only want empathy”, because sympathy can lead to lot of discriminations in the society. Only empathy can change our perspective.
I think one of the main challenges for people with disabilities is their inability to accept their own disability. Because of this, many of them could get into depression and anxiety disorders. So what I feel is that if we can accept our own disability, things will naturally fall in place. Having accepted the fact that we are disabled, we would be able to seek appropriate support services easily because we would be able to openly share our needs and concerns with the authorities and families/relatives. So I have realized that accepting our own disability is the most important step on our part towards creating an inclusive society where persons with disabilities enjoy equal rights and dignity like the non-disabled population. We have to face the reality at any cost and learn to accept it.