Empowering people with disabilities

Empowering people with disabilities

Representative image.

When is a country termed 'evolved'? Is it when there is economic progress or growth in aspects such as infrastructure, or is the degree of evolution is gauged by the manner in which it treats those who are not in the mainstream —those who are differently-abled. Statistics from the World Bank indicate that one in every 12 households in India has a person with some form of disability. In most countries including India, disability is understood more as a medical deformity. The meaning of this word is articulated with terms that find their base in medical sciences. For instance, they could be either blind or deaf, and so on. For the most part, these people are relegated to their rooms; ridiculed and stigmatized based on their condition. They do not get equal opportunities in any facet of life —from employment to being treated at par with the others. The need of the hour, therefore, is inclusion and empowerment, changed mindsets and encouraging acceptance. 

The business case for people with disabilities is already established. Inclusion will only happen when certain old assumptions are challenged. Several organizations have been and are hiring people with disabilities with a positive impact on their business too. The idea here is that just as there is no business case required for a person’s ethnic background and other aspects, disability should not need any justification either. Inclusion does not just start and end with recruitment but percolates to other aspects such as their overall health and well-being. India can take a leaf out of global best practices that use technology as an enabler to empower people with disabilities. For instance, one of the world’s most comprehensive network of Braille and tactile signs are being rolled out in Sydney (Australia) to help those who are visually impaired. Similar initiatives across the public and private domains are the need of the hour in India too.

Earlier this year, para-badminton player Manasi Joshi brought home a gold medal —her first —at the Para World Badminton Championship. She managed to play the sport along with a successful career as a software engineer. While it may not have been an easy road for her when she had an accident, what Manasi did was to face life’s curveballs with grace and resilience. As the larger bodies work towards inclusion and empowerment, the differently-abled must also have faith in their capabilities. Their motivation must stem from the fact that they are the answer to their adversity. Inclusion will begin with them and their attitude towards life too. 

We have always made the differently-abled feel ‘accommodated’ and viewed them as victims. This scenario needs to change, and we must begin seeing them like everyone else. From making roads more accessible and education more inclusive, we must empower them to achieve their goals without the need for any kind of reservation or ‘special concession.’ The first step towards this is to stop looking at disability in silos and as something that has a larger bearing. The disabled individual should be aware of how they are different yet not isolated. This will help bridge existing gaps and offer them an opportunity to excel in their field of choice. Closer home, the Election Commission declared the recent polls as ‘Accessible Elections.’ A step ahead would be to enable people with disabilities in taking up leadership roles across sectors. This will help them to live with dignity and respect, at par with others in society and ensure that they integrated better with the mainstream society. 

(The writer is the Medical Director, Portea Medical)