The observance of International Day of Persons with Disablities is aimed at promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and increasing public awareness on their situation. The theme this year focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Most of the European nations and the USA have succeeded in narrowing the disparity between ‘normal’ and disabled citizens, thanks to liberal inclusive policies and generous social welfare schemes.
Now the big questions are: Where does India stand? Do our establishments and facilities cater to the needs of such persons? How far have we progressed in ensuring an environment in which persons with disability (who form 2.21% of the population as per 2011 Census) feel at least 50% contentment? Experts say the very estimation of the number of disabled persons does not seem accurate. “Compared to other countries, especially the developed ones, the percentage of disabled persons in India is much lower,” says Dr Shahadad, Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Government Medical College, Kozhikode. He relates two factors to this low number – faulty data collection and insistence on higher degree of disability in determining a disabled person.
The data shows India is behind Myanmar and Sri Lanka. But it does not mean we have succeeded in tackling disability by means of medical advancement. Though we have managed to create a more disabled-friendly environment, a great deal has to be done to become an inclusive society. For that we will have to modify and re-modify our entire system of institutions and establishments.
“At present we don’t feel much comfortable in public places. The buses and trains are not designed for us,” says Riyas Tikoti, leader of All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation. What they plead for are more low-floor vehicles, more reserved seats in them and ramps in all public buildings and malls. Visually challenged and hearing impaired persons also echo the same when they say that they don’t feel accommodated in the system.
“Apart from being called by more polished terms now, I don’t think life has changed much,” said Vinod Kumar, a partially blind lottery vendor in Kozhikode. Parliament passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act on December 16, 2016. It has provisions, which if implemented, could be a game changer.
Constitution of State Advisory Board (SAB) for the disabled, appointment of district nodal officers for education and increase in employment quota from 3 to 4 percent are some of the provisions in the Act. Disability Rights India Foundation (DRIF) recently published a report on the progress in its implementation.
The findings are hardly promising. Some of the states have not even translated and notified the rules, despite the Act mandating that they should be notified within six months of the enforcement of the Act. Southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have shown laudable commitment in implementing many of the provisions, but some issues remain unaddressed. For instance, they do not have grievance redressal centres at district level.
Nor do they have regional courts and public prosecutors exclusively for persons with disabilities. Difficulty in obtaining disability certificate is another grievance.The disabled in our country do not want our sympathy. Instead, they long for equal consideration and unbiased behaviour from the so called normal citizens. Let this special day lead us on that line.(The author is co-founder, NEST International Academy and Research Centre, Koyilandy)