“I’ve always wanted to write about my disability but I was afraid to raise my voice in more spaces than I realised. I longed to find a space for myself and my community. I longed for a certain sense of identity,” reflects Anusha Misra. The 23-year-old founder of Revival Disability Magazine acquired a motor disability at the age of nine. She has since been on a journey navigating her disability in an able-bodied world.
Born out of a mind stuck in quarantine, Misra says, Revival was an effort to break out of the shackles of oppression, ableism, and a lifetime of isolation. She created the magazine during lockdown last year and since then, it has evolved into a platform that aims to “unhide disability.”
Living with a disability can come with its own set of challenges, but even more so when you’re a woman, says Misra. She recalls how she used to hide her crutches every time someone took a picture and felt frustrated that she couldn’t wear dresses because of her supportive shoes. “I had this idea of ‘femininity’ ingrained in me that was against my identity as a disabled woman,” she remarks.
With the magazine, Misra seeks to confront not just society’s conceptions of disability, but also her own internalised ableism. “Our disability is seen as a burden, as a bad karma, as undesirable and unattractive,” she says. She reiterates that ableist society implies that there is only a certain kind of way to be functional — to wash dishes, to bathe, to sleep, to make love, to show affection. “At Revival, we do everything our way — the disabled way, the way that has been shunned and silenced for so many years but no more,” she says.
Having grown up with speech difficulty, Misra admits that she was always ashamed of it. “I wouldn’t talk for an entire day, because I was so afraid of people hearing my ‘disabled’ voice. I was disgusted by how it sounded.” She recalls dreading roll-call in class because it meant having to yell ‘present’. Looking back at those instances with a new perspective, she says that she has to unlearn the misconception that you need to be loud to take up space. “Maybe my voice is not loud enough for everyone to sloganeer with at political rallies and protest sites and give elaborate public speeches. But it is still enough, isn’t it?” she asks.
She hopes to challenge perceptions even with the disabled community where women with speech difficulties are discriminated against. She reiterated that as a writer who writes about disability, she is no less of an activist than someone who speaks about it in front of audiences.
Coming together as a community
Over the past year, the Revival Disability community, led by Misra, has grown into a support system for each other and aims to defy the mainstream narrative that disability is inspirational or tragic. In an endeavour to normalise disability, she says that more media platforms need to centre the idea that it is not something to be overcome. “Write about something other than a person's success despite their disability,” she remarks. She hopes that the focus would shift to disabled joy and affirmative action which goes beyond ‘inspirational' videos of disabled people with sad music playing in the background.
Her own takeaway from this personal project has been immense but the most profound realisation she has had is that it’s alright to ask for help. “I had grown up thinking that my disability made me inferior, weak, and asking for help would simply tarnish my reputation as I thought that I was already a burden by being around people,” she says. After moving to a new city, she no longer had her mother around to help her tie her hair or remove her earrings. Misra reiterates that she had to teach herself that it was acceptable to ask her hostel mates for help and along the way, she also learned to be kinder to herself.
Accessibility in mental health
Misra, who is also a psychology graduate, has her sights set on expanding her impact on the community beyond running Revival. “Once a week, I have people texting me about what disability affirmative therapy is,” she says and observed that it’s usually people who are caregivers of people with disabilities. “I wish to change the scene of inaccessible therapy in India by hopefully becoming a disability affirmative therapist and spreading more awareness,” she says, adding that such therapy prioritises identity and social location.
As a child who grew up with limited disabled role models, Misra hopes to fill that void for young disabled people. “I started this magazine not only for myself but for an urgent collective need to voice the lived and authentic experiences of the Indian disabled community,” she says. Many young disabled women have resonated with her work and have written in to thank her, and she is grateful for the opportunity to help them feel less isolated.
In the long term, she hopes to see more disabled people telling their own stories rather than able-bodied people speaking on their behalf. “I can start a whole campaign from my bed alone. I have started a social movement, even if it’s on a small scale as of now,” she notes, “We have to redefine our definitions of activism and politics.”
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)