At least six percent of Indian population is disabled. Unfortunately disabled in our country are neither aware of their fundamental rights nor they get to exercise them. In fact most, deaf and speech-challenged people do not understand this meaning of the word “rights”. At most, they would know, it means the right direction or left direction. We either view disabled people as victims or exploit their vulnerability. They are still denied of their basic rights to be able to navigate, communicate and right to education.
Often decisions about disabled community are taken by government bodies without involving a disabled in the meetings and decisions. Their logic is that what will a audio-speech challenged person contribute to a meeting about meeting challenges of the disabled. This is plain apathy to them. The concept “nothing about us, without us” is unheard by the government.
I read about a story where visually-challenged guy was applying for the job of a lecturer. The insensitive woman at the form counter seemed to be appalled at the thought of a blind person teaching. She discouraged the blind by talking negatively about the whole thing aloud to anyone who would care to listen. She said, “How would he correct the papers? How would he teach?” She was no authority, she was one of us. She was prejudiced and ignorant. We have to put a stop to that attitude.
We hear a lot about inclusive education. Rashtriya Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan was launched with so much fanfare. We have made a mockery of inclusive education. And I must point out that Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan has failed to include disabled children. There is apathy even in separate schools for disabled. In schools for deaf, you can find teachers who are themselves not well-versed with the Indian sign language (ISL). Blind students have not been provided a copy of braille textbook and syllabus. Teachers are droning on and on in the class full of blind students uncaring if the students are following.
Is it any wonder if only 2% deaf attend schools? We have 1.5 million deaf sign users but only 150 schools. Deaf students have nowhere to go to educate themselves after completing high school.
Education for disabled suffers because there is “meager, untrained and overstretched” staff. This is a shame for a country that has so much of human resources and we continually crib about unemployment. Why can’t we be sensitive and train people amongst us to take care of the disabled? We can nurture more talent and preserve human rights.
Sure enough, we have laws to protect the interests of the disabled. Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act, (Equal Opporunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation), 1995 states:
Establishments in the transport sector shall, ………., take special measures to-
- adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts in such a way as to permit easy access to such persons;
- adapt toilets in rail compartments, vessels, aircrafts and waiting rooms in such a way as to permit the wheel chair users to use them conveniently.
… Provide for:
- installation of auditory signals at red lights in the public roads for the benefit of persons with visual handicap;
- causing curb cuts and slopes to be made in pavements for the easy access of wheel chair users;
- engraving on the surface of the zebra crossing for the blind or for persons with low vision;
- engraving on the edges of railway platforms for the blind or for persons with low vision;
- devising appropriate symbols of disability;
- warning signals at appropriate places.
The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for –
- ramps in public building;
- adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users;
- braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts;
- ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.
Of course, we know, none of the above features are provided in our country. This when India has ratified for India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on October 1, 2007. I remember reading about a tireless young schoolgirl visiting government office to get them constructed disabled-friendly. I thought that girl had more sense than our sleeping government. It is disabled who need educational reservations. They can’t ever make full use of job reservation if they do not have their basic rights of education fulfilled. We must set up a reservation for them in primary school. But vote bank politics ensures that there are no deserved reservations, we continue to make caste-based reservations that too in institutes of merits and higher learning. It is our mistake, that we elected such incompetent ministers.
Coming to accessibility of houses by disabled, a suggestion has been made to provide tax concessions/rebates to the builders who comply with accessibility housing standards. I fear no one has come out clearly what these standards are? Why we are not implementing them? People who are disabled are being forced to cull their navigational right, sit at their homes and wallow in self-pity. When will this be a priority?
Right to Communication
People with disability are excluded from almost all means of communication. But is anyone aware of disabled-friendly information and communication technologies (ICTs)? A recent advertisement starring Abhishek Bachchan picturises use of Short Message Service (SMS) by a deaf girl. Yes, Sms-es are a boon to the audio and speech challenged people. There are telephone relay services (TRS) abroad that allow people to use text-entry devices such as text-entry phone and teletypewriters (TTY). In US, UK and Australia, such services are mandatory. PDA phones are also a help but miniature keypads need to be made more accessible.
Sometimes, technological changes can also be demanded. In US, visually challenged consumers filed a case to demand that mobile screen be accessible to them via screen readers. Yes, there are screen readers that help blind to access Internet and software. A blind person can successfully work as accountant if a screen reader-enabled accounting software is used. Most web sites are not screen reader compatible, I am not sure if even WordPress is? Television captioning is another way of making television accessible to people with hearing impairments. You may read this article to learn more.
Sexual Rights and Leprosy Patients
We need to take steps to protect sexual rights of the disable women. This is most ignored aspect of the disability issues. Other disability victims are leprosy patients. Medical advancement has ensured that leprosy is curable. It is not infectious as proven by science. But law has not updated itself. Leprosy can still be a divorce ground. Section 56 of the Railways Act does not allow leprosy patients to travel. Let’s campaign to get the law updated. I wish these things did not take long.
Ray of Hope
Recently ballot paper in Mumbai elections were in Braille. Remember the story of Olympics for the disabled. They all went back to to their slowest competitor and walked to the finishing line together. Involving disabled in sports and culture are also nice ways to motivate them and bolster their self-confidence.
This article was completely inspired by reading January-February issue of Combat Law magazine. It is run by HRLN and offers latest on human rights. You can access this freely available magazine here. The first image is from Disability India Information Resources (DIIR).
You can contact Sense International who work for the rights of deaf and blind. Their deafblind helpline number is 1800-233-7913.