It’s 4 am and the world outside this window is as white as snow. Pun Intended. I sit down with my tea and with every sip I recall a story that I would like to share with you all. A couple of years ago I was part of a leadership exchange from Pakistan to the USA. I was so excited to learn from it, meet so many young people from around the world and participate in activities. But above all I was excited to use accessible bathrooms, ramps, and lifts to my heart´s content.
I reached USA and quickly made friends with all the participants. Then one day the organizers arranged a trip to another event and a bus was booked for us. I was super excited to see a bus that had a lift in place and I could easily get in a specially designated seat which was at the back of the bus. Once the bus started, everyone was settled and I realized there were a couple of seats between me and the other participants who mostly occupied the front rows. Just in a few moments into the journey, the music started, and then there was dance followed by singing.
Though I was in the bus and with them but yet not ´with them´. I saw from a distance all the fun and waited for them to move back a little so I can also participate. When that seemed impossible, I could not make my voice reach them and none of them looked back, I sat there just fidgeting with my phone and looking outside the window, a tear escaped my eye.
Once we reached our destination, we got off. Everything was normal. But my mind kept trying to reflect over the situation. I asked for an accessible bus and my wish was granted then why did I feel not included? That’s when I realised the infrastructure did not fail me, the community did.
Fast forward today, I am in Uppsala pursuing a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship aiming to find sustainable solutions for people with disabilities. I am also aiming for a student life experience that I could not have back in Pakistan because the infrastructure did not support it. But I wanted that to change forever. As I enjoy some parts of accessibility, I wrote to all the student Nations to ask about their understanding of accessibility and inclusion. Seven out of thirteen Nations replied me explaining why their buildings are not fully accessible. I wrote back cheerfully proposing a workshop or a meeting under the theme of ´Inclusive Lens´ to build a community that would support people with disabilities regardless of the infrastructure. Sadly none of the curators got back to me after the proposal and now I sit here sipping my Pakistani milk tea wondering how insignificant infrastructure is as compared to the power of people is. If only we as people could build our foundations on empathy through our actions and not let policies, systems and conventions take control.
As my tea reaches the bottom of my mug so does my article with a challenge or a proposal for you all to build an inclusive lens through your leadership and actions and also call me if you want to have fantastic tea and hear stories of inclusion.