Hyderabad: On the International Day of People with Disability, meet Dr Malvika Iyer — an inspiring disability activist, bilateral amputee, bomb blast survivor, social worker, and a National Awardee.
Since 1992, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been annually observed on December 3. On this day, Malvika recalls how 17 years ago, when she was lying on a hospital bed, she heard people comment that her life was done. She listened to some women whisper, “Did you see that new girl in the general ward? What a shame! She must be cursed, as her life has now come to an end.”
However, Malvika had gone on to become a PhD scholar, international motivational speaker, a model for accessible fashion. Malvika would become an advocate for building an inclusive society. She obtained her doctorate in Social Work from Madras School of Social Work in 2017. Her doctoral thesis is on the stigmatisation of people with disabilities.
Taking to Twitter, Malvika shared her inspiring story on Tuesday on World Disability Day. Malvika mentioned that the women’s comments 17 years ago hurt her. She wrote, “That was the very first time I cried my eyes out. Not when I saw my amputated arms covered in blood. Not when I saw the doctors drilling iron rods inside my leg. Not when I was battling for my dear life. I was labelled the disabled girl with no future. The naive 13-year-old mind inside me was ready to believe their verdict on my life and had it not been for the unconditional support of my family and friends, I’d have given up. (sic).”
17 years ago, when I was lying on the hospital bed, I heard a bunch of women whisper, “Did you see that new girl in the general ward? What a shame! She must be cursed as now her life has now come to an end.”#WorldDisabilityDay #InternationalDisabilityDay #IDPD2019 #Disability pic.twitter.com/P9ZhWDslIK— Dr. Malvika Iyer (@MalvikaIyer) December 3, 2019
Malvika, who was born in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, survived a grenade attack when she was 13 years old in Bikaner on May 26, 2002. She lost both her hands in the unfortunate incident and sustained severe injuries in her legs, multiple fractures with nerve paralysis and hypoesthesia. She was hospitalised for 18 months and could only walk after a year with the help of crutches.
Malvika believes, “The most critical barrier people with disabilities face is the invisible barrier of attitudes. Attitudes are so significant that they represent more of a barrier to people with disabilities than any functional limitation caused by the disability. Mental illness is seen as a curse, although it is something that each one of us undergoes in varying degrees of intensity. Most people don’t take treatment for mental illness due to the fear of stigma, isolation or rejection (sic).”
While talking about people with disabilities, she added, “When we talk about social and economic development we must understand that negative attitude towards people with disabilities affects their ability to settle into the mainstream society, access employment and services. They are unable to perform work well suited to their skills and interests due to low self- esteem. Often, people who feel harassed because of their disability avoid going to public gatherings. People with disabilities even refrain from expressing their sexuality (sic).”
Malvika mentions that primarily we need to be able to accept them to provide inclusive opportunities for persons with disabilities. “We also need open communication. People with disabilities are not a uniform social group. Sensitising our society about the unique needs of people with disabilities is essential,” she tweeted.
She believes we must include success stories of persons with disabilities in the school curriculum instead of showing them as objects of charity. “We need to show people with disabilities as role models instead of showing them as weak and dependent,” Malvika adds.
She notes that we need more films that promote a positive outlook towards disability instead of engaging in stereotypical beliefs. We must follow the social model of disability and ensure integration of children with disabilities in schools and colleges, inclusive hiring and adaptation of standardised technology in workplaces. Malvika says that she is a product of inclusion, and it’s her dream to see individuals with a disability to be embraced by their society.
While her tweets are inspiring, it does raise doubt about how she can type out these messages. Sharing a picture of her holding her doctoral thesis, she writes, “Say hello to Dr Malvika Iyer.” In the same tweet, she goes on to explain, “To everyone who’s been curious as to how I type, do you see that bone protruding from my right hand? That’s my one and only extraordinary finger. I even typed my PhD thesis with it (sic).”
From typing to cooking to cleaning the house and applying makeup, Malvika does everything on her own.