What makes you feel unsafe in public places?
6th December, 2016 was the third and final day of the My Access workshop series, at the Adapt Centre in Bandra with Adapt, Fempositive and the Nina Foundation. We brought together disabled women, mostly wheelchair users, with non-disabled women, to help understand how all women face issues of safety and accessibility.
Nidhi from Point of View and Riddhima from FemPositive begin by asking all the women about their dreams. Some dream to learn wheelchair dance, others, to travel and to get married. Next the non-disabled group is ushered to one side of the room and told to come up with questions for the disabled group. A lot of embarrassed whisperings and shy smiles go around, until Nidhi tells everyone that no question is a wrong question. The first set of questions that comes up is – do people stare at you? Do you feel unsafe? How do you respond? Which received both grave and humorous answers. They go on to ask – do you date? What was the experience like? The answer is yes, and some participants share their experiences as well.
Soon, the participants who live with disabilities pose a question to the non-disabled participants – what kind of apprehensions do you have around people with disability? The answers range from the fear of offending someone, to not being able to understand them properly. One suggestion that comes up is to be empathetic and not sympathetic. The groups then talk about romantic pursuits and rejections, and unsurprisingly, women of both groups have had similar experiences for the same reasons – unattractive body type, no spark or no genuine attraction.
After this, it was time to pair up the disabled group with the non-disabled, and have a discussion on what made them feel safe and unsafe on the city roads, just as had been discussed the day before. The same responses came up – groups of men and lack of accessibility among others, while having a mobile phone or a trusted person around made people feel safe.
Post a half an hour walk, both groups of participants realized the struggles the other faced on a day to day basis and were able to empathize much better as well.