Disability rights hit blind spot

Disability rights hit blind spot

Ningappa Dodamani, 43, does community-based rehabilitation for the differently abled. He is differently abled himself. Born with clubfoot, a locomotor disability, his earliest childhood memory is that of his sister and friends carrying him to the village school in Haveri. If school days were tough, life in college was harrowing. “It was a not a disabled-friendly environment. And I was facing discrimination at every corner,” he recollected. Despite the prejudice and inaccessibility, he earned his pre-graduate diploma. But jobs never came in. Hardships were turning out to be a routine. 

READ: Life of pride despite prejudice

Government schemes fare poorly

The struggles of Ningappa are a reality for the differently abled even now. Karnataka is home to 13.24 lakh people with disabilities, according to the 2011 census. Experts say that leading an independent life is never a possibility for the community. 

Barriers are manifold -- undue delay in getting a disability certificate or Unique Disability Identity Card (UDID), meagre monthly maintenance, educational hurdles, mobility issues, inaccessibility to public spaces, discrimination in jobs and poor healthcare, to name just a few. 

When The Rights of Person with Disability Act was passed in 2016, the community had its hopes pinned on it. It held the promise of new opportunities and avenues. Moreover, under the new Act, there were 21 disabilities compared to the earlier seven. “But the Act is not operational,” said G N Nagaraj, president, The Karnataka State Disabled and Caregivers Federation. “There is no interest either for the Centre or the State to implement this Act.”  

Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) too complain that the implementation of this Act is long overdue. “The Karnataka government should notify the rules for implementation of the Act,” Nagaraj said. “Besides, the new Act will also compel some private establishments to reserve jobs for the disabled if it is implemented,” he noted.

Devikala M L, 34, lives on Magadi Road. She was affected with polio when she was one. In her formative years, she could only crawl around. Her parents tried to get her admitted to a pre-school, but the application was rejected. Later, her father tried an English medium school to no avail. She then went to a Kannada medium school. “When I was in class six, I joined the outreach programme of The Association Of People With Disability (APD). They provided me with elbow crutches and medical rehabilitation,” she said.

Devikala, who is now coordinator, Institution Disability, Rehabilitation and Research Department, APD, narrated how life is a struggle each day for the differently abled. “To get the disability certificate, we have to go from one department to another. Sometimes, there is no coordination among the departments,” she said. 

The Unique ID for Persons with Disabilities was implemented in 2016 to create a national database for PwDs and to issue a UDID card to PwDs. The UDID is meant to be applicable anywhere in the country.

“You have to apply online for UDID and it’s a long process,” said Devikala. “If it’s difficult for educated people like me, how taxing would it be for the poor and uneducated? I applied for it in 2017 and still haven’t got it,’’ she added.

Throwing light on UDID and the delay in accessing it, Nagaraj said that the Centre started implementing it from 2017. “But in Karnataka, it was initiated only about six months back. The process is going on now. But, of course, the district hospitals have to provide a medical certificate while applying for UDID.”

Going to a district hospital for a medical certificate is tough for people from distant places. “At the district hospitals, there is a big rush of patients. The authorities will not be able to allot personnel and time for the differently abled. So it should be certifiable at the taluk level but there is no authority at the taluk level to certify it. The Central government has not identified any taluk hospitals for the purpose,” he informed.

When Ningappa, whose son too was born with clubfoot, started working with The Association of People with Disability, he realised that there were many in the differently abled community who do not have any awareness of their own skills. “I went from door to door motivating the differently abled and counselling and teaching basic management skills for parents. A lack of awareness and support from parents can make the differently abled end up on the streets with families disowning them.”

Meanwhile, the pleas to increase the monthly maintenance for the community has only fallen on deaf ears. “What we want from the government is education for the disabled, and employment to the maximum extent possible,” Nagaraj said.

“The government should increase the monthly allowance. They should make an appropriate allocation for this in the Budget,” he added. 

Forced to beg

Nagaraj pointed out that if they can’t be given jobs, the government is duty-bound to provide monthly maintenance. “The Central government is giving Rs 300 per month and state Rs 300 for those with a disability of 40% and above. For those with more than 75% disability, the maintenance from the state per month is Rs 1,200. What we are demanding from the Centre is a monthly maintenance of Rs 3,000 for those with 40% disability and above. Of Rs 3,000, 75% should be from the Centre and 20% from state. We want Rs 5,000 for those with disability above 75%. For women it should be Rs 1,000 more than this because they have special requirements,” he said. 

“If such monthly maintenance is not provided, these people would be forced to beg,” he added.  

With inclusive education yet to turn into a reality, PwDs are clearly left behind in education as well. “There should be inclusive education at the school level itself. Only 1,200 to 1,500 of the differently abled pass the SSLC exam. Without SSLC, you can’t get any jobs, neither government nor private. If there are only 1,200 to 1,500 disabled people applying for jobs and four per cent reserved for them, that vacancy is not being filled. Therefore, make the differently abled capable of passing SSLC and PUC by building the capacity in them,” Nagaraj said. The unfortunate fact, added Devikala, is that authorities don’t have any confidence in the ability of the differently abled. 

“When I started fieldwork, people assumed that I would not be able to walk three km, but I travelled 5,000 km and rehabilitated more than 3,000 children and adults with disabilities. There were also those who said that I would neither be able to hold a newborn baby nor do therapy for others. But I proved that I could,” she added.

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