Me, My Son, My Career and A Wheelchair

My son is my hero and he thinks that I am his. We share a nice and simple rapport. I am his friend and he is mine! There is nothing that we don’t talk about. He is very comfortable discussing about anything with me. He does not feel like I am this relic from another generation who needs to be looked at differently. The laughs we share and the uncannily common favorites we have when it comes to TV shows sometimes puts others off. Before you start thinking that I am going overboard with my story or that this is a common occurrence in all homes, let me tell you something else. Me and my son have never played cricket together, never gone to a movie together and I haven’t been to a playground or a mall with him even once! Why? I am on a wheelchair and this is India!

Don’t get me wrong, I am as patriotic as you or the other person. But when it comes to accessibility, I have to tell you that our great nation ranks very very very low! Even the mere expectation of accessibility is met with indifference and contempt here. Cut to my stint in the US and it was like heaven compared to what I am going through here! It is a country that believes that accessibility is a necessary aspect of living and every single structure is accessible, public or private. The barriers to entry or exit do not exist. A physical challenge does not even figure into any persons issues list. It’s like they don’t see it that way!

Image Credit: MorgueFile

Come back to India, let me narrate the story of a job interview here. The year was 1996, I was interviewing for a Systems Analysts post in a popular software firm that was part of the boom bearers for IT in our country. Those days, I wasn’t on  wheelchair yet, but both my right leg and right arm were already paralyzed. How that happened is a story that is out of the scope of this article. So I walk slowly into the room, there is a panel 6 people sitting and grilling folks. I sat down. The first question ” Oh God! How did this happen to you?” I explained. Then they were all like “Poor chap! So bright yet such a problem” I told them very clearly that I was a qualified post graduate engineer who could beat the best they had and wasn’t looking for sympathy. Then they got a bit upset. They called me “Over Confident” . The technical part of the interview began and I aced it! The next part was what I found ludicrous.

They all came with me outside the office and asked me to show them how I will walk in by myself. Then there were stairs that I had to climb up and down. Finally they wanted to see me use the loo! Not joking here! They did it!  After that they took me to a workstation and asked me to show them how I typed on a computer. I did, and faster than most of their other guys! So then they were “convinced” and gave me a job! I went home with an offer letter and a completely broken ego and lost self respect. In my tenure there, the boss made sure that he made me work the graveyard shift continuously for a year in the name of “equal treatment”. Kept changing my workstation twice a month across 10 floors to “test” my ability and many other “tests” followed. After a couple of years I got fed up and left the place.

All that was when I was more mobile. Now-a-days I am unable to walk on my own as my condition has progressed and need prosthetic support and a wheelchair to move around. So this changes the scenario even more radically. Cut to March 2007, I am the Head of Software Development at a firm in Bengaluru! The building has steep stairs, a faulty elevator without UPS backup and wait for it – the office toilet has a stair that is 2 feet high right in front of it! After a week, I went to the guy who owns the place and told him that these are my issues. He looked at me and said ” I care a F@#K! You are a professional and you need to manage with whatever is here! Go get to work!” A few days later I went and requested him to fix the toilet issue for me, he said, “The ladies toilet is lower, you can share it with them!” I was totally dumbfounded at what was being suggested here! Unable to believe that a CEO could even think of talking like this. He called and meeting of girls and me and made this cringe-worthy suggestion public! I objected and did not want my female colleagues embarrassed anymore! Requested them to leave the room and spoke to him. I told him that I will come in early in the morning and get my work done and leave by 5 pm everyday, that way I use the loo at home before leaving and after returning. He agreed. He even suggested medication to help me “hold it”

I did this for a year, the boss then started publicly questioning why I was leaving early everyday without stretching. He called it lack of commitment. My performance evaluation was trashed. A hefty performance component was withheld and I was warned that I would be fired! At this point, I knew that the end was near. Soon enough, performance reasons were created and I was fired!

I became a freelancer, after that life became better. The quality of life that I was leading improved and my family time also became vastly improved. But the basic issues exist. I am an android enthusiast, but most mobile makers ignore me as I can’t go to their events that are held in environs that are not friendly. They do not even send me review pieces on time!  But hey, I am not giving up or losing it!

My son walked up to me and said “Dad, don’t worry, we are a team – You, me and your wheelchair! And we are winning!” Truer words have never been spoken!

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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