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The Power To Adapt
Text by Rinky Kumar and Photographs by Aparna Jayakumar
Published: Volume 15, Issue 5, May, 2007

She uses a voice synthesiser to communicate with others and moves around in an electric wheelchair; yet her zest for life shines through. Confronted, on many occasions, by society's condescending attitude and the lack of disabled-friendly facilities, Malini Chib set up the Able Disabled All People Together (ADAPT) to fight for the rights of the differently abled. Rinky Kumar spends time with the inspiring 40-year-old woman who has risen above her physical limitations

Rarely in our lives, do we come across someone who inspires us by setting an example, to seek the hero within us. Malini Chib, trustee and chairperson of the Able Disabled All People Together (ADAPT), is one such person who gives new hope to people. She suffers from celebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair and uses a voice synthesiser to communicate with others yet she does not let these factors deter her from fighting for the rights of the differently abled.

On my way to meeting Chib, I wondered how she would react to my questions about her limitations. It passed my mind too that she may have imbibed her bedrock of determination from her mother, Dr Mithu Alur, founder of the Spastics Society of India (SSI). After I had met and spent an eye-opening, animated afternoon with the feisty 40-year-old, I came away suitably impressed.
As I entered Chib's plush Colaba residence in Mumbai on a Monday afternoon, I was greeted by her and Teresa D'Costa, her assistant. Clad in a brilliant orange kurta, she was literally the bright spark in the room. "She is a lovable person, gifted with a sense of humour and a genial smile," D'Costa informed me. As I started talking to Chib, her quick, alert replies and her cheerful disposition instantly put me at ease. But, from her conversation, I soon realised that it had not been so easy for this activist to accept and overpower her disability.

Born as a blue baby in 1996 in Kolkata, Chib was afflicted with cerebral palsy, a persistent disorder that affects movement and posture. Following the initial shock, her parents were eager to learn more about the disability. Doctors bleakly warned, "Don't do anything with her. Your daughter will be a vegetable for the rest of her life." Her parents did not give up on her easily though. Her mother, Dr Alur traversed different parts of India in search of a special institute that provided education to the differently abled. To her dismay, there was a dearth of such facilities. "Finally, Mom travelled abroad and underwent a course in special education. She founded the Spastics Society of India in 1972 to provide therapy and tutelage to children afflicted with cerebral palsy," the daughter recounts.
It was eventually here that Chib learnt the fundamentals. She had decided, from the outset, that she would not allow her disability to hinder her education. At the age of 14, she went to London and completed her 'O' Levels in English literature, English language, Mathematics and History from the Thomas Delarue Institute in Kent.

Unlike other differently abled people who are rebuked by their friends and sneered at by relatives during their early years, Chib basked in the love and affection of her family. "Holding my mother's hand, walking with her and playing house-house with my cousins are the earliest memories of my childhood," she reminisces. But the going got slightly tough for her once she went into college. "I had led quite a sheltered life at the SSI and interacted with like-minded people. In college, I was on my own. So initially, people were unable to understand what I said. I had to make an effort to communicate with them."

After graduating from St Xavier's College, in psychology and history, Chib did her diploma in desk-top publishing and Masters in gender studies and information management from the London University. "These subjects fascinated me. I was keen on attaining higher degrees as I wanted to prove to everyone that I am not different from any normal person." Being on her own in a foreign country was quite invigorating for Chib, as she had earlier mentioned in one of her articles. "After several meetings with the higher officials at Oxford, I convinced them that I would not need any extra help. I was provided the accommodation. The publishing department was on the first floor and trying to reach there was quite tiring. But the computer centre was completely accessible and I learnt my word processing skills from there."