Disabled persons need equal opportunities

The nature and severity of disability may vary but this is a group which needs full access to education, rehabilitation services, employment etc. By alienating them from the mainstream and not providing them the required services, Indian society stands to lose out on the full contribution of over a 100 million people.
It has been rightly said that disability is more a social problem than a medical one. The physical/ medical problems can be tackled by the specialists but it is the society that needs to embrace the differently abled and include them in all spheres. It is up to each one of us, whether we are part of the government, rehabilitation team or the general public, to provide equal opportunities to the disabled. This we must do, not just out of the goodness of our hearts but because the disabled have right to opportunities.
Can we, in India claim to have ensured equal opportunities for PWDs (Persons with Disabilities)? Yes and No. Legislation in the form of PWD Act, Rehabilitation Council of India Act, etc introduced in the 90’s have strengthened the disability movement substantially.

Technology a leveller
Technology has been a great leveller, finding solutions to many problems and also making the disabled use tools that were hitherto not within their reach. Job opportunities are increasing as computers become more and more accessible. There is increasing sensitivity among the general public too, thanks in part to popular media.
But on the other hand, there is an alarming incidence of many disabling conditions like Autism, accident related injuries etc. Our population is aging rapidly and bringing with it many disability issues. Rehabilitation courses find few takers and there is a perennial shortage of trained rehabilitation personnel and services despite the initiatives taken by the government and private sectors. There is also the gross neglect of the rural disabled. Our roads and public buildings are treacherous for the disabled. Misconceptions about disabilities persist.

The link between disability and poverty is well known. Even disabilities that are preventable don’t get prevented for economic reasons or out of ignorance. Rehabilitation services are costly, time consuming and are prolonged. Many people therefore either don’t seek them or persist with them. Even the 3 per cent jobs reserved in the government for the disabled often go to the orthopedically disabled while the other categories don’t get represented because of lack of qualification.
While centres in big cities can offer state of art, specialized rehab services to those who can afford it, for the majority in India, Community Based Rehabilitation model works best. Here grass root level workers are provided with sets of generalized skills so that they can cater to the needs of various disabilities. These programmes are often tied up with other schemes such as women’s empowerment, rural employment schemes etc so that integration into the mainstream is easier.

 Perhaps the most significant development in the field of disability is the change of approach-as PWD act puts it- from a welfare oriented approach to one based on equal opportunities and full participation. When this happens there will be a snow balling effect. The disabled will ask for and get better services. Instead of depending on the government for disability pension, they will be tax paying citizens.
It is only by building bridges and crossing over to the other side that the differently abled and the “typical” can meet each other and discover the sameness and strengths while understanding the differences: A young hearing impaired woman when asked whether she is married to a “Normal Person” answers thus. ”I’m married to a hearing person…”

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