I recall trekking in Nepal in 1991 like it was yesterday. The vivid memory comes after crossing the Modi Kola River on a dangerous suspension bridge. Missing planks, the rickety rotting track was suspended 840 feet above the river. As I am very short, the grab lines were beyond my reach and I was walking on my stumps with my heart frantically pounding. The last thing I felt like doing after surviving the scary bridge was take a rest, so I went a little ahead of the group.
A porter from our group who had been around me for nine days was not far behind me when we saw a farmer. This farmer looked more like a walking hay bail with spindly thin legs protruding out the bottom. It was a real shock to me to see how much he was carrying. Well... turns out I was a shock, too!
Upon seeing me, the flabbergasted timeworn farmer turned to my porter friend and asked, “If this one looks like that...” pointing at me, “...what do the rest of them look like?!” To which the porter answered, “One of them doesn’t have a head!”
We all laughed in relief of the awkward question. The porter could joke because of our travelling together which shed a different light for him on what people with disabilities could do. This was a huge leap in breaking down stereotypes that come from very real conditions of an impoverished Nepal. This porter still came to a new place of understanding that he could joke in response to the ridiculous question.
To get an idea of what preconceived notions this porter overcame, people with disabilities in Nepal are not prioritized because they are not seen as “able” to contribute to the community. For instance, it is assumed they are unable to work in the rice terraced fields, or help in maintaining the village, though some do.
They feed the people like the animals very practically. To stretch the food out, they feed one donkey well decorated in colourful bells and whistles. Then all the other donkeys follow the sounds, hungry or not. Food in Nepal is so scarce. They don’t share it freely with people who are disabled.
Nepalese people with disabilities do not have legislation, awareness or access to technology that will make their lives easier, such as artificial limbs or high-tech wheelchair, though I did not travel wearing my legs and the Nepalese were surprisingly resourceful. Yet still they are not fed equal amounts of food. As sad as it sounds, many people with disabilities are left to die.
As a result, I did not see a lot of people with disabilities in Nepal, so I was somewhat of a novelty, and it was soon known in villages that I was yet to visit that there was an unusual person coming.
Many gathered from far and wide to come meet me wherever we went.
By working together and bridging gaps, we break down barriers. If this could happen in Nepal, it could happen anywhere! I’m proposing time together in authentic, valuable contributor roles promotes increased awareness and acceptance whether it is people with a disability, or ethnic difference, LGBTQIA1, or women in powerful positions in the workplace just getting there together - creating that bridge will break down stereotypical barriers.
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