Conceptualizing multiple disabilities in music experiences and gendered advocacy

Vinothini’s reflections on music provide ways of thinking about the experience of multiple disabilities that could be usefill to advancing understandings of gen-dered-disability advocacy in diverse contexts. Throughout Vinothini’s life stories, her experiences of disability in music have clear implications for how she is working towards achieving her career goals.

But society looks at us blind people, those who can’t speak or hear as truly disabled people. The issue with society is that they think those who cannot see are the ones who really need to be assisted. I’ve noticed that in many places. For example, say someone who is not able to speak catches the bus and goes somewhere after facing so many hurdles due to their disability, society really doesn’t look at that and appreciate what they’ve gone through. But say someone who can’t hear uses sign language to speak to someone next to me, people would stare at them. Society looks at us differently. There is a person who plays the keyboard with her hands. Society appears amazed, however will just applaud and let it be. However, when we play the keyboard, they look at us with awe, watching to see how we figure out the settings, and the buttons, by just feeling it. That is a difference in us. Furthermore, in the manner in which we study, we use braille, the others just cany a pen and book around. When we use braille, they look at us differently.

Vinothini provided further examples that demonstrate her everyday experiences of being a disabled Tamil female university student travelling from the North to Colombo, which is almost 330 kilometres away and can take up to nine hours to reach by bus. She had initially travelled with her family members, but the trips became expensive and soon she was travelling alone. Significantly, the family did not treat Vinothini differently due to her disabilities, instead encouraged her frill participation in household chores and family life, while trusting her decision to pursue higher education in Colombo. Her experiences, however, demonstrate the challenges of living with a disability as a woman in Sri Lanka, where basic infrastructure, respect and dignity has been denied to them.

People see us in two ways, one group sees us as their sibling and another sees us as ‘what do they know, we can do whatever we like’. There was a blind girl whom someone got married to. The husband took her into the jungle and left her there. There are people like that. Even when I travel by bus or train. I get harassed. This recent trip back home on the bus [from university], what happened was, there was a boy sitting behind us. We had made a booking and so were sitting in the front. These boys were pushing their leg through the bus seat [between the back rest and the seat], I kept telling them to stop and they wouldn’t listen. My friend couldn’t take it anymore and stood up and hit the guy with a water bottle, even then he didn’t stop. Then she stood up, walked over to him, she is also blind, and told him to stop. Then he finally stopped. Then the bus stopped for a tea break and he got off, had a tea and came back and said, ‘I’ll simply put my leg up on the seat, what are you going to do?’ The guy was so drunk. The people around us didn’t say anything. There were other boys sitting around and they didn’t say anything. We were feeling really scared, especially because we are women. We couldn’t go to the bus driver and complain because he was up ahead, and we are blind right. There are many such issues that we face.

Even if we explain it to people they won’t understand. And then there is the problem of getting the seat. People constantly take our allocated seats and yell at us to move to the back of the bus. If you are a boy, it’s okay. We have two issues: we are disabled and female. If not for the disability, they should at least respect us for being women.

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