The ‘Special’ tag is a reason to cheer


On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, sheatwork takes time out to honour the specially-abled people

A big thums up to the specially-abled people on United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which fell on December 3. It is a good occasion to focus on issues that affect people with disabilities worldwide.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed globally re-affirms and draws attention to the rights of people who are specially-abled.

It goes back to 1976, when everything started.  That was when the United Nations General Assembly decided that 1981 should be the International Year of Disabled Persons. So, the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons was held from 1983 to 1992 – to enable governments and organizations to implement measures to improve the life of disabled persons all over the world. On October 14, 1992, as this decade drew to a close, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons. It was on December 3, 1992 that this day was first observed. On December 18, 2007, the assembly changed the observance’s name from the “International Day of Disabled Persons” to the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. The new name was first used in 2008.

The aim of Disability Day is to encourage a better understanding of people affected by a disability, and help people know of the rights, dignity and welfare of disabled people, as well as raise awareness about the benefits of integrating disabled persons into every aspect of life, from economic, to political, to social and cultural. Each year the day is celebrated with an emphasis to  improving the lives of such people. In 2007,  the theme focused on: “Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities”. In 2013, last year, it was “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”, a call to help disabled people live in an inclusive society in every country.

History has witnessed some of the most outstanding achievements by men and women. It takes a lot of courage and passion to achieve success, which is clear as you track such success stories.

Achievers – all in a different league

One outstanding person who has reached where few others can today, is Stephen Hawking, who suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). A great thinker, he is known for A Brief History of Time and a host of other books.

One of the most beloved singers alive today, Stevie Wonder is a musician, singer and songwriter who was born blind. Considered a child prodigy, Stevie signed with his first record label at age 11, and went on to chart out a really successful music career. Having recorded more than 30 U.S. top ten hits, it includes his famous singles “Superstition,” “Sir Duke” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Then there is Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award and the Golden Globe winning actress for her leading role in Children of a Lesser God (1986). She is one of the most successful actresses, who is deaf. Since receiving her Oscar, Marlee has been a character on many TV shows and has appeared on reality shows such as The Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.

Frida Kahlo comes to mind here. Injured in a trolley accident when she was a teenager, which led to a broken back that would never fully heal 100 percent, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is one of the most well-known artists with disabilities of the 20th century. Frida is most known for her self-portraits, many which portrayed her in her wheelchair. While her high-porfile relationship with another famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera is another aspect of her life, she will always be known for her fierce spirit of survival through artistic expression.

Another towering personality is Helen Keller, the American author, political activist and lecturer who was the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. Her story was famously portrayed in the play and film, The Miracle Worker, which documented how her teacher Anne Sullivan was finally able to develop a language that Helen could understand. Her books total 12 published works, including her spiritual autobiography, My Religion. She was also a member of the Socialist Party in America, and campaigned heavily for women’s rights and other labor rights.

Closer home, an outstanding Indian achiever is Sudha Chandran. She is one of the most well-known dancers and TV actresses in India despite having lost a leg in 1981, after a car accident. She is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, and she was able to teach herself how to dance using a prosthetic “Japir foot,” enabling her to become one of the most highly acclaimed dancers in the world. A Bollywood film, Mayuri, was also made about her life. We can also see her in many TV serials.

It takes a very special strength to reach the heights these people have. Achieving greatness is never easy, especially in the face of disability. In fact, they make it look so easy, that they can be forever termed – the specially-abled superstars!

So, at the end of the day, there’s nothing that can stop anyone, if they have the talent and the sheer determination to stand and fight – till they touch glory. A big salute to the specially-abled achievers! May your tribe grow and be unputdownable…

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