By Salil Chaturvedi
I’ve often wondered if disability is contagious.
Can one catch it by being around a disabled person, like one contracts a viral or flu? Or perhaps more like the mysterious way in which yawns get transmitted. My experience suggests that that might well be the case, though this needs a deeper scientific study.
Here are some conditions, enumerated in the hope that they will keep you from accidentally catching a bout of disability.
>> Push and Shove Motor Syndrome (PSMS): This can affect a perfectly ‘normal’ person when he or she is within 10 feet of someone with a disability, especially if the disabled person is on a wheelchair. It can also occur around blind people. In this condition, the affected person is overcome with spasms of charity and loses control over his thoughts and musculature. The altruistic virus takes sudden control of the brain and the person is overcome with a mad impulse to either push the wheelchair, or to lift it off the curb, or to assist in any other way. It does not matter if the person on the wheelchair is in mid-conversation with someone – off he goes, having to finish the conversation over his shoulder. I’ve even seen a rare case of this syndrome at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi where a person was pushing two wheelchair sportspersons at the same time, struggling to control the wheelchairs, while the wheelchair users struggled to break free. One antidote to this, I have found, is a well-aimed slap. There might be other methods too, like going over the toes of the charity-ridden person but a slap seems to be the most effective in relieving the affected person of the charity virus.
>> Disability Erasitis: This is a severe condition of the eye that lasts as long as a disabled person is within seeing distance. By a mysterious phenomenon, for which there seems to be no rational explanation, the affected person will simply erase the disabled person from her sight. Sometimes she may even turn to avoid the sight of the disabled person, taking care, though, to keep the disabled person towards the corner of the eye, lest he move. People who are affected by this condition will then speak only to the companion of the disabled person. Even if a question is raised by the disabled person, the answer will be given to the companion. For example, you might ask a person for directions to get to a certain place. The question is acknowledged to have been spoken by the ether, and the answer is delivered straight to the companion. This condition seems to get cured if you poke the person in the stomach forcing her to acknowledge that you exist. But it has side effects – the person prefers to quickly walk away.
>> Decibel Disorder: This is a curious case, but nevertheless, one that is fairly common. It affects the vocal chords. On meeting a blind person, someone who has been speaking normally is suddenly transformed into a high-decibel individual. He will start speaking loudly in the hope that the blind or visually impaired person will be able to hear him properly. There are other versions of this disorder. Sometimes the affected person will start speaking very slowly, and sometimes they will do both — speak loudly and slowly. While no sure-shot cure is available, one can certainly mitigate the disorder by saying a magic word after the person stops speaking. Depending on the language being spoken, one needs to simply say “Hain?” or “Kya?” or “What?” forcing the person to repeat every syllable, leading to vocal exhaustion.
>> Curiosidosis: This usually occurs when a person comes face to face with a disabled person all of a sudden, as when turning a corner. The element of surprise seems to play an important role in triggering this disorder. The affected person experiences severe reactions in the facial muscles. Then he transforms in one of two ways – either the pupils dilate and the eyebrows are pulled towards the forehead, pulling the jaw upwards, or the face muscles are instantly paralysed and the jaw sinks downwards accompanied with a blank stare. Simultaneously, the foot muscles may also be paralysed, in which case the person stands at one spot, eyes transfixed hypnotically at the disabled person, mouth wide open.
This disorder also seems to have a socio-cultural aspect. It can affect conservative people when they see a disabled person doing tasks such as getting into the driving seat of a car, working on a laptop, playing a music instrument, etc. Sometimes, especially in older people, one encounters yet another variant of this disorder. They will start asking many questions, the pet one being, “Is this from birth?” As soon as you hear that question, you know what you are up against and you can proceed to treat the affected person. There are many ways of doing this; one of the most effective being to ask many questions back, such as, “Do you always ask personal questions before you get to know someone?” You could devise your own questions based on the situation and the severity of the attack, but remember that you must frame your answers as a question.
There could be other kinds of disability that one can contract from being around a disabled person. I’d appreciate it if you could bring such ailments to my notice so we are all prepared.
Cross-posted on Salil’s blog, Saliloquy