Embassy News
 Arts & Living
 Travel & Hotel
 Medical Tourism New
 Letters to Editor
 Photo Gallery
 News Media Link
 TV Schedule Link
 News English
 Hospitals & Clinics
 Flea Market
 Moving & Packaging
 Religious Service
 Korean Classes
 Korean Weather
 Real Estate
 Home Stay
 Room Mate
 English Teaching
 Job Offered/Wanted
 Hotel Lounge
 Foreign Exchanges
 Korean Stock
 Business Center
 PR & Ads
 Arts & Performances
 Restaurants & Bars
 Tour & Travel
 Shopping Guide
 Foreign Missions
 Community Groups
 Foreign Workers
 Useful Services
 ST Banner Exchange
  Medical Tourism
Disability Is Not Limited to the Body, It Is Also about Mindsets
Special Contribution
By Shobha Shukla
Disability is not limited to the body, It is also about mindsets.

Very often it is our disabling attitudes that make life difficult for people with disabilities, rather than their own physical impairments. More than the disability itself, it is its psychological effects that take a bigger toll on the person, says wheelchair bound Tanzila Khan, a disability rights activist who founded

Tanzila shared her anguish in lead up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, while delivering the plenary talk at the 11th virtual session of the ongoing 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR10).

"Persons with disabilities struggle a lot with their identity. We do not find ourselves fit in society. All the buildings are made accessible only to the able-bodied. The same applies to policies and legislation. Sometimes attitudes can disable an entire nation or community that has a perfectly able-body with no impairments", she said.

There are 690 million persons with disabilities in the Asia Pacific region. While many countries of the region have focused on improving access of persons with disabilities to employment and education, limited attention is given to their sexual and reproductive health needs. Sexual and reproductive health rights of women still remain a taboo subject and the challenge becomes even bigger in the context of women with physical disabilities. Any talks around this important issue are difficult to digest for many people, including policy makers and leaders. Even healthcare providers very often turn a blind eye to it.

The insensitive attitude of service providers is a major hindrance for persons with disabilities in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. In Nepal, young people, especially women, with disabilities face several problems on this front, shared Shibu Shrestha, who is a senior programme manager at Visible Impact. As it is, the unmet need for family planning in Nepal is high for young women. On top of this, it is assumed that those with disability are either asexual or not sexually active and therefore do not need sexual and reproductive health services like family planning.

According to one study, persons with disabilities in Nepal are twice as likely to be on the receiving end of inadequately skilled healthcare providers at improper facilities. They are three times more likely to be denied healthcare and four times more likely to be treated badly by healthcare systems.

In another recent study conducted on young persons with disabilities in 3 cities of Nepal (Kathmandu, Sunsari and Nepalganj) participants shared that the attitude of the health service providers was judgmental and not friendly when young people sought family planning services, to the extent that the service providers often remarked- "Even these people need these devices?"

The study participants were hesitant to share about their behaviour and perceptions regarding family planning. All of them said that such family planning issues were still not discussed in the open. No wonder they had limited knowledge of family planning methods, with the male participants stating that the main family planning method among the unmarried was the emergency contraceptive pill.

While all agreed that decisions on the usage of family planning methods should be made through consensus among the couples, the female participants highlighted that men are usually the sole decision makers for the type of the family planning method to be used after marriage.

"When there is no discussion, there is no question of decision. But, they (males) offer to buy us the 'morning-after' pills the next day, and we have to agree as we do not have other alternatives. We do not have the confidence to buy contraceptives, so we willingly allow unprotected sex", said a female participant.

Another woman with disabilities in Kathmandu confided that, "Once when I went to buy vaginal tablets, the pharmacist looked at me in such a way as if I have committed a murder. Since then I have never gone to buy any contraceptive device on my own."

Myths associated with contraceptive use also exist. Many persons with disabilities think that condoms and intra-uterine devices do not give sexual satisfaction, or that vasectomy makes a man sexually weak.

If this is the attitude and level of understanding in the big cities, one can imagine the situation in small towns and rural areas.

Shibu wants all information and services for persons with disabilities to be equipped with accessibility standards - like provision of ramps, larger bathrooms with grab bars, lowered examination tables, easy to read versions, sign language interpreters, tactile communication provision, audio formats and braille script, including pictorial form for persons with intellectual disabilities and autism disorder.

Srei Chanda, who is a research scholar at the International Institute for Population Sciences, did a study in two metropolitan cities of India which explored the plight of people with acquired locomotor disability due to lower limb amputation (as a result of accidents or some underlying health condition). According to Srei, amputees not only have to battle physical, psychological, social and economic changes, but their sexual and reproductive health needs also remain largely unaddressed.

One person who had a below-the-knee amputation said: "One cannot share every thought with one's mother. You also need support of friends to share certain issues. Being disabled, it is difficult to share the thought of sexual need and desire even with my friends."

Another young female, who had undergone bilateral below-the-knee amputation, shared that her husband left her when she became pregnant. When she went to the hospital for her delivery the healthcare personnel said, "You don't have legs, we cannot take the risk of delivering your baby."

"Although I did not have much trouble in the whole process of delivering the baby, the words like 'no' or 'limbless' were the only trouble I felt indirectly from every other person", she said.

Phyu Nwe Win, Magazine Editor Colorful Girls Myanmar, says that in her country, persons with disabilities especially young women and girls, have high unmet sexual and reproductive health needs. This is mainly due to false perception that they lack sexual desire and therefore are unlikely to have such needs. This inhibits them from even talking about sexual and reproductive health related issues. They are stigmatised and excluded from comprehensive sexuality education programmes due to lack of perceived need. Even when included in educational activities, they face barriers as materials specific to their needs are unavailable. Myths and misinformation around sexual and reproductive health are rampant and result in adverse outcomes for women with disabilities - like forced marriages, domestic and sexual violence, and lack of power to negotiate for safe sex that leads to unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, said Phyu.

These are some of the heart wrenching ground realities faced by persons with disabilities. But there are some sparks of hope too. As shared by An Nguyen, Vietnam is one such country that offers a good practice example. An Nguyen is currently doing her PhD from Monash University in Australia and has a physical disability due to polio.

Vietnam is fairly progressive in terms of sexual and reproductive health services. Most people can easily access contraception and reproductive health is discussed openly. Government policies actively promote reproductive rights. The recently implemented Disability Law has brought about a number of positive changes for persons with disabilities.

An's study on "Accessing Reproductive Health Care Services For Women With Physical Disabilities In Ho Chi Minh City" found that most women with disabilities have had a positive experience when accessing healthcare services. Participants reported that healthcare providers are sensitive and knowledgeable about their needs and physical infrastructures have improved. Infrastructure improvements included provision of ramps, lifts, and wheelchairs at health clinics. Government healthcare cards for people with disabilities entitled them to reduced fees or even free services, depending on the extent of their disability. All this has helped the persons with disabilities to take good care of their health.

However, some minor irritants still remain - like in some hospitals toilets are inaccessible for wheelchair users; parking is far away from the main entry gate and parking of three-wheel motorbikes is not allowed.

"Access of women with disabilities to reproductive healthcare could be further improved by improving the capacity and knowledge of local governments to better operationalise the laws. Also, there is scope for further improvement in policies. Even though the law on disability recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities, the national guidelines on reproductive healthcare services currently do not have specific guidelines for them", says An.

In Pakistan, Tanzila's drama production company, Creative Alley, is using innovative ways to highlight the issues of persons with disabilities at policy level and also to sensitise the general public. Her "Theatre of the Taboo" is a training module that uses theatre as a problem-solving technique on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

"Our theatre makes the audience become the actors in the play. We let them address their own biases and this has proved to be an enjoyable technique. We also try to bring all communities together and not just the persons with disabilities, as this is likely to alienate them", says Tanzila.

She has also founded "GirlyThings", a mobile App that provides home delivery (to women and girls with and without disabilities) of products related to women's health and menstrual hygiene, including sanitary pads. It empowers women to take care of their menstrual health and hygiene by themselves by providing instant access to feminine healthcare-related information and products, which women might otherwise be unable to buy directly from the shop, either because of their physical disability and/ or they might be hesitant to buy from the shelf because of the inherent taboos and stereotypes around such products.

Tanzila insists that the best way to empower persons with disabilities is by mainstreaming them and treating them as our equal and not as beneficiaries of our charity. We all need to adopt the lens of inclusivity and make sure that we do not have a disabling attitude towards anybody, regardless of the impairment of their body, or their background, or any other identity that they have.

Shobha Shukla - CNS (Citizen News Service)

(Shobha Shukla is the award-winning founding Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and is a feminist, health and development justice advocate. She is a former senior Physics faculty of Loreto Convent College and current Coordinator of Asia Pacific Media Network to end TB & tobacco and prevent NCDs (APCAT Media). Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or read her writings here

Related Articles
    Are We Prepared to Combat Online Gender-based ...
    Shooting Our Own Foot: Misuse of Medicines Is ...
    When Will We Start Caring for Our Caregivers?
    Ending TB One Barangay at a Time
    Are We Putting Money Where the Mouth Is to ...
    Early and Accurate TB Diagnosis Is the Gateway ...
    Long Walk to Transgender Rights and Gender ...
    Strong Local Actions Are Pivotal to Reduce ...
    The Head Must Follow What the Hand Writes
    Ending Tobacco Smoking Is Bedrock for ...
    Asia Pacific Has over 6.7 Million New TB Cases
    Will Shorter, Safer and More Effective TB ...
    Whither Women's Reproductive Health in Asia ...
    Build the World We Want: Healthy Future for All
    New TB Treatment Breakthroughs Must Reach the ...
    How Will Children Living with HIV Grow Up ...
    Writing Is on the Wall: Pictorial Health ...
    Failing on the Basics: Are We Able to Break ...
    A Bouquet of Novel Compounds: New Treatment ...
    One Size Does Not Fit All: Expanding the ...
    Tale of Two Pandemics: Follow the Science and ...
    Governments Must Adopt a Strong Political ...
    What Is the Ring?
    Accelerating Progress on Sexual & Reproductive ...
    Stop This Shaming of Menstruation
    Complacency Breeds Failure: Consolidate ...
    For Age Is Opportunity No Less Than Youth ...
    New Study Pegs the Number of TB Cases in India ...
    Self-stigma: Let Us Do More Than Just "Ttalk ...
    We Cannot Eliminate TB If We Leave Children ...
    MDR-TB Treatment Rgimen: Short Indeed Is ...
    A Plain Face Can Take the Sheen Out of Deadly ...
    Strike at the Root of the Problem to Kill TB
    Antibiotic Use Is Driving Antibiotic Resistance
    Big Push for Transgender and Hijra Welfare
    Where There Is a Will There Is a Way: Teeja ...
    Lung Cancer: Difficult to Diagnose, Difficult ...
    Long Road to Justice: Human Rights of Female ...
    Medical Malpractices: Is There Light at the ...
    Overcoming Roadblocks in Translating ...
    Management of Respiratory Diseases beyond ...
    Gender Justice to Be at the Heart of ...
    Connecting the Dots: Tobacco Use, Diabetes, ...
    It Is Time To Control Asthma
    Call for No More New HIV Infected Children
    Smoking Goes Electronic
    Break the Silence around Cancer
    How Can You Treat Your Illness Unless You Take ...
    Asthma Medicines Still Unaffordable for Many
    New Technique to Prevent Diabetic Lower-Limb ...
    Cycle Beads: The Bead String for Family ...
    Beware: All Forms of Tobacco Are Harmful!
    Mother's Milk Is the Best Nutrition for the ...
    Where Is The TB Quilt, Nay Mask?
    Hello, This Is Nature’s Call From Garbage ...
    Tuberculosis: Ugly Scar on Beautiful Childhood
    Towards A More Enabling Environment for ...
    What’s Cooking in Kitchen: Peace or Conflict?
    Feed Your Child Well: Prevent Pneumonia
    Costly Medicines Mean Debt or Death for People ...
    AIDS Epidemic at a Critical Juncture in ...
    Watch Your Tongue Mr. Minister!
    Free Trade Agreements: A Threat To People's ...
    In The Pursuit Of Healthy Happiness
    Empowering Rural Women
    Say Yes To Life: Say No To Tobacco
    Homophobia Is A Human Rights Issue
    Viva La Woman Power
    Rubbish Rubbish Food and Embrace Healthy ...
    Of Music and Divinity
    Wake Up Call on Childhood Obesity after Years ...
    A New Hope of Life for Our Ailing Education ...
    Reminiscences of Egypt
    Do Not Break the Nucleus
    Whispers of Sanity in the Frenzy of Madness
    Tobacco Cessation Can Piggy-back Ride on ...
    In The Spirit Of Freedom (from Tobacco)
    World Conference on Tobacco or Health to ...
    Requiem for Purity
    Rhapsody 2008 -- a Symphony of Different ...
    'Diabetes Doctor Is at Your Doorstep' in ...
    Activists Decry India's Deferment of Pictorial ...
    South-East Asian Diabetes Summit to Open Up in ...
    Special on Universal Children's Day
    The Wrath Of God
    World Food Scarcity and the Challenges of ...
    Victim of Terrorism -- the Common Man
    Teachers' Day: The Sacrificial Goat
    Hiroshima Day: Let Us Worship Peace and Shun ...
    Whither the Innocence of Childhood?
    Food for Thought -- on World Food Day
    Love Is the Missing Link in War-on-Terror
    Irom Sharmila: The Iron Lady
    India Poised And Shining
    Is It Just Another Day in Life of Indian Woman?
    He Has His Cake and Eats It Too
    To Be Young, to Be Married, and to Be in India
    The Mad Mad World of Ads

Other Articles by Shobha Shukla
    Shooting Our Own Foot: Misuse of Medicines ...
    Early and Accurate TB Diagnosis Is the ...
    Strong Local Actions Are Pivotal to Reduce ...
    The Head Must Follow What the Hand Writes
    Ending Tobacco Smoking Is Bedrock for ...

Ms. Shobha Shukla has been teaching Physics at India's noted Loreto Convent, and has written for The Hindustan Times and Women's Era in the past. She serves as Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She can be contacted at






The Seoul Times, Shinheung-ro 36ga-gil 24-4, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea 04337 (ZC)
Office: 82-10-6606-6188 Publisher & Editor: Joseph Joh
Copyrights 2000 The Seoul Times Company  ST Banner Exchange