The body that needs to be fixed is the infrastructure of society… and all its myths and stereotypes along with it.
Shivangi Agrawal is a disabled queer activist. Over the last 6 years, she has actively advocated for disability awareness and accessibility and spread awareness about gender and sexuality while navigating disability herself. Professionally, Shivangi works with ThoughtWorks as their DE&I associate. As an artist, apart from experimenting with zines and poetry, she paints on unconventional surfaces such as prosthetics and wheelchairs.
An avid reader, and a lover of fiction, Shivangi tells us that she draws much of her strength from movies and books. Shivangi admits, with childish reverie, how the popular book series, The Princess Diaries, was something that helped her in accepting her disability when she was very young. The protagonist, she says, talks a lot about mental illness, psychosocial disabilities, and being different. This is where Shivangi places herself, as it allows her to think about disability as just one aspect of her identity.
For the longest time, she did not think she was disabled despite having peers who did not have any 'visible' disabilities. It was only around ninth grade that she began to realize that she was very different from her peers. In college, Shivangi found herself involved in a lot of supportive spaces that advocated for disability awareness and inclusivity — something that would become a mainstay later in her life.
Shivangi’s journey with queerness has been very distinct and different. She tells us that her understanding and awareness of her sexuality were gradual and inevitable. In 7th grade, she developed a deep connection with a friend who identified with a different gender than the one assigned at birth. She also had one particular friend, whom she fondly remembers would debunk cultural myths and push Shivangi to be more accepting and courageous.
When she was much older, the acceptance she received from the LGTBQ community, especially during pride marches, helped her journey of self-acceptance. She, however, sadly remarks that the kind of fraternity and solidarity we see among able-bodied and neurotypical members of the queer community is seldom extended to members of the country’s disabled communities.
When asked about her thoughts on attraction and attractiveness, Shivangi reveals that for the longest time, she did not think of herself as attractive. However, when she accepted her queerness, it became easier for her to develop a unique understanding of attraction as she explored sexuality. Today, Shivangi advocates for shifting the discourse towards attractiveness, rather than attraction.
Shivangi describes digital spaces as sites of transformation and as avenues to voice concerns and conduct discourse, especially for minority communities. However, she also accepts that these spaces can also be limiting as they are predominantly constructed by mainstream society using a very narrow lens of the user interface. Nonetheless, she recognizes that digital spaces are evolving and empowering disabled persons to engage in coherent discourse and work towards more inclusion at a rapid pace.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 is an amazing document. It gives (us) the language and understanding of why disability inclusion is important in different spaces and institutions.
Shivangi has a lot of positive things to say about the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, passed by the government of India in 2016. She stresses that parts of the 2016 Act that have been directly adopted from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) are 'amazing'. However, there are certain concerns she flags that need to be addressed and modified.
Firstly, she argues that the annexure listing the form and percentage of disabilities is a major drawback in the document. This exposes the policy brief's lack of community consultation. Quantifying and categorizing disabilities into rigid and definite compartments is violent and problematic, and completely runs against the UNCRPD.
A second drawback is a mandate for disability certificates. Shivangi tells us that for persons with invisible disabilities, this process can be extremely cumbersome, if not impossible. Red-tapism, administrative dead ends, and the compulsory involvement of a certified medical practitioner — who is oftentimes intolerant — make it all the more challenging.
Acquiring a disability certificate requires the medical model of disability. And, a lot of times, they (medical practitioners) will deny people who are hard of hearing or are visually challenged. They will say that you're lying, or this is not real, and things like that.
Taking the legal route, too, isn’t easy, as approaching the court is a risky task. She believes that essential changes are required to the 2016 Act to be robust enough to deliver on its promise of justice. Shivangi is hopeful for a brighter future and intends to work relentlessly until her vision becomes reality.