(On the birth anniversary of Stephen Hawking, The Quint is republishing this piece from its archives. It was first published on 16 March 2018.)
He gave them hope. Of imagining a life that extended far beyond the realms of their disability. All through his life, author, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist Stephen Hawking inspired persons with disabilities to lead fulfilling lives and not be defined by their disability.
Just as he expanded our idea of the universe, he expanded the possibilities for millions of persons with disabilities.
My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.Stephen Hawking, on disability
Hawking passed away on 14 March at the age of 76, leaving behind not just an (inter)stellar body of work, but also the seed of aspiration in many from the community, serving as a living example of all that they could be, disability be damned.
“Stephen’s knowledge defined him, not his disability,” says Abhishek Anicca, writer, poet and a member of the disabled community.
For most of Hawking’s life, he was in a wheelchair, and post 1985, could speak only with the help of a voice system following a tracheotomy.
And yet, his speech was as powerful, humourous, and stinging, as it ever could be.
A point brilliantly articulated by Nidhi Goyal, a visually impaired stand-up comedienne and gender and disability rights activist, “He (Hawking) proved that you don’t need to have speech to have a voice”.
It wasn’t just the man’s brilliance. Hawking fell in love, got married, and had kids. A dream persons with disabilities are often denied, especially in our country, where they are often (wrongly) considered a burden.
An incident, narrated by disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra, really puts us to shame.
When Hawking visited India, he found it difficult to access our monuments as they were not accessible at all. He could only visit Qutab Minar that had put together a makeshift accessible solution.Nipun Malhotra, Disability Rights Activist
Hawking may not have been able to visit our monuments, a shocking reminder of our national apathy against the community. But his thoughts and life story surely touched many members of the community in India.
Hawking was a man who wrote ‘A Brief History of Time’ and in his time, changed lives of persons with disabilities.Nipun Malhotra, Disability Rights Activist
Which is why, for the countless people who are looked at from the narrow prism of their disabilities, Hawking’s life story will always be a brief history of brilliance and hope.