Empower the Disabled

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-

  1. adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts in such a way as to permit easy access to such persons;
  2. 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:

  1. installation of auditory signals at red lights in the public roads for the benefit of persons with visual handicap;
  2. causing curb cuts and slopes to be made in pavements for the easy access of wheel chair users;
  3. engraving on the surface of the zebra crossing for the blind or for persons with low vision;
  4. engraving on the edges of railway platforms for the blind or for persons with low vision;
  5. devising appropriate symbols of disability;
  6. warning signals at appropriate places.

The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for –

  1. ramps in public building;
  2. adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users;
  3. braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts;
  4. 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.

25 Responses to “Empower the Disabled”

  1. 1 Shefaly April 30, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Poonam: This is a post after my own heart.

    There are many reasons for people ill-treating disabled people but first pass, the stats in India are so disputable and cause much commotion when questioned. As I learnt when I once wrote on the Indian Economy blog about it. I shall look for the link or I think I gave it a second outing on my LaVie blog, if you would like to read it.

  2. 2 Tara Prasad April 30, 2008 at 7:41 am

    I would like to put a point here, forget about govt. organizations and facilities, even in hi-tech corporate offices you will hardly find any special provision for the disabled in toilets! Way to go…

  3. 4 Poonam Sharma April 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

    @Shefaly: Thanks for the link! I am reading it now. Good to know this is a subject close to your heart. But I can bet this is gonna be one of the least read posts on my blog. My frivolous posts would get more attention. 😦

    @Tara Prasad: I agree that private institutes may not have proovisions but what about the government who itlsef has mde such laws. Even with laws, government office don’t follow it. 😦

  4. 5 Nita April 30, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Poonam, you have worked really hard on this post, well you do on most of your posts actually. In India we have a long long way to go before the society can accept disabled people. I have thought deeply about this and wondered why we cannot accept them as easily as those in developed countries. Maybe it has something to do with economics. If a couple has a disabled child in India and they are poor they immediately get rid of it in a most cruel manner. Ofcourse a rich couple may not do that, but they have to cope with a strongly biased society. I remember when I was working for an orphanage in Bangalore I had to take care of an autistic child as a personal responsibility. Including taking the kid to hospital etc. The child didn’t look normal, something about the expression and the way he behaved. Whenever I took him to the government hospital for a check up and had to wait in a long queue I had people looking at me pityingly. I had people telling me that it was a horrible fate and gods will etc…it used to irritate me as I thought the kid was actually extremely bright and just needed some therapy. I was sure the kid could lead a normal life if people just left him alone! In fact in my heart of hearts I felt that he wasn’t even autistic, just unloved. I tried telling that to the doctor…not that anyone listened!

  5. 6 praneshachar April 30, 2008 at 11:38 am

    wow!! what a great concern about the disabled hats off to the pains taken and efforts put carve out a beautiful post on this issue. I want to add EVM Electronic Voting Machines have been made for use by blind they will be in use in elections in Karnataka earlier also they used.
    we have sufficient no of employees who are disabled they have got a association and lot ramps, special toilets for handcapped are all provided. no of blind people work in our co.,
    it gives immense satisfaction if you see them making their life comfortable by earning this will give lot of mental toughness and society also accepts them I have seen no. of them leading normal life getting married having kids and so on and so forth, a job in hand that too in a PSU or govt will make them a diferent person. others I have seen lot of handcapped runing telephone booths, xerox etc. etc.,

  6. 7 Anshul April 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Other countries do have buttons at a bit lower levels and also marked with braille so that it becomes easy for people on wheelchairs and blind ones to navigate. Also, there are sound signals at traffic lights for blind pedestrians.

    Just a small scenario, Companies selling elevators don’t even offer this option to buyers or builders(assuming that majority of them won’t be aware of it).While most of these companies are Big MNCs who have installed those panels for disabled else where in world.

    I think that corporates should step in not only to spread awareness but also providing them with suitable job opportunities, since the govt. has failed in doing so.

  7. 8 Anshul April 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    * I am talking of elevators in Para 1 of my above comment.

  8. 9 Shefaly April 30, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    @ Poonam: You are right. On my own blog, it was amongst my least-read posts. But I have come to expect that now. :-/

    But on the Indian Economy blog, it was widely read and appreciated. The comments there were also many more and covered a range of perspectives (of course, many fought about my questioning of the data; I had said that the 2% estimate – available from Govt sources – is too low). Some readers on the IE blog told me my posts on health and disability had nothing to do with economics πŸ™‚ What can I say in the face of such wonderful inabilities to see connections?

    Punarbhava was not launched until then; that is recent but it is a pity that the website itself is not accessible to a range of disabled people! In the UK, it is required by law that all governments websites be accessible.

  9. 10 Anshul April 30, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    @Poonam,Shefaly : Your older posts got less views(unique) or less comments.

    Assuming, 1 comment = 2 views.

    Coz. many people do read these posts with interest but fail to comment due to certain reasons.

  10. 11 Poonam Sharma May 1, 2008 at 5:52 am

    @Nita: yes, did work hard on this one. It became too long. Perhaps, I should divide it into two posts. Exactly people take autistic , dyslexic kids as mentally retarded, which is unacceptable. Your assessment could right, Nita, perhaps it was only love the child needed. They need more love than others and yet they are deprived most. It cuts through my heart.

    @praneshachar: I am so impressed by what you have written about your workplace. It seems to be one of the rarest. I am curious to know which on is uit? It sounds like a big ray of hope. Glad to have all your information. Would like to know more about your observations about their troubles and suggestion for improvement for the disabled? yes, I have seen telephone booths run by disabled.

    @Anshul: yes, when I was researching I found about instructions for blind at traffic signal. If we want our disabled to be self-reliant and not deny their right to navigation, we need such measures. And you are right, corporates should step in. There is no or about it.

    @Shefaly: yes, I read the discussion at IE blog. Certainly, no point arguing about the stats. I read that UK law, they also have course and tips about how to do it. As an instruction designer, I get lot of opportunities to go through their training programs that are mandatory for each employee to complete. Workplace ergonomics and other several concepts that haven’t yet hit this country yet.

    @Anshul: THanks for the consolation1 Yet sometime there is a niggling feeling that it is not enough. 😦 But yes, persist and move on we must.

  11. 12 ish May 1, 2008 at 6:30 am

    Nice post, and as everyone has said, a lot of hard work put in. Yes, you are absolutely right about reservations. Here we are, giving reservations to people who don’t exactly need them but the disabled are getting completely neglected. A common scene is on the road where you have disabled people commuting on their bicycle type things which work with hands right? So nobody bothers to help them when there is a steep road and all people do is honk and shout, which is very sad. And then they go around showing sympathy for roadside dogs. It’s funny how a human being can treat another human being that way.

    And then there’s this theory of special schools which might be necessary but isn’t being implemented in the correct way. The first thing that needs to change is the way the government looks at education. Education is not merely learning facts, it’s also developing a personality and that doesn’t happen in special schools. That’s why I believe that everybody should be at par so that they can be with the normal children and develop into confident individuals. Otherwise they’ll face prejudice and will ultimately give up.

    But one thing that gave me hope when I visited Delhi last time was the Delhi Metro. At least the constructors of the Metro did do quite a lot to help the disabled by making the floor in a particular way to help the blind and separate sections for people who are on the wheel chair. Sad thing though is that the regular commuters don’t bother and it ends up being as difficult as it was earlier for the differently-abled. But maybe with more such people, things will change. Though it’s really sad how I have to say that to everything..from child abuse to corruption. Things will change..When?

    And about such posts getting less hits, that is inevitable. Blog readers have different priorities. Most of them prefer short and sweet posts. The longer and serious it gets, the lesser interested people get. And feed readers make a huge difference too. Most people read posts in their feed readers these days and since they don’t have much to say on a serious post, they leave it there but it doesn’t show as a hit in your stats. So, you never know there might be more people reading too.

  12. 13 Poonam Sharma May 2, 2008 at 4:47 am

    You are right about the reservation part. Your words also remind me of a friend in Bangalore, who during the dog-culling crisis said: If I have to ever choose between human and dogs, it will always be human.

    Yes, Delhi not only has disabled-friendly metro but new high Capacity buses where again wheelchairs can easily ride the bus. However, only people in wheeelchairs are not disables. Disability is visual, audio, and speech-challenged people to and then there are mentally disabled people as well.

    yes, sometimes, it is hard to achieve short and sweet posts. 😦 Hope more people are reading it.

  13. 14 Amit May 2, 2008 at 10:46 am

    I had a very good friend in school who used to come on a wheelchair. He had polio as a kid and his legs were lifeless. Nobody used to sit with him and that is how we became great friends because I went and sat in the empty chair next to him. I saw people looking at him with pity but I never gave him that look. I always behaved as if he was completely normal and this somehow used to encourage him. They afterwards he got that motor operated tricycle and I used to ride with him on that. Once he asked me if I feel uncomfortable or edgy when he drives, because his other friends feel that way. I looked straight in his eyes and said – No.
    What I want to convey is that such people are not lesser than any of us and what we don’t understand is that they don’t need our pity but support and encouragement. Just because a person can’t walk does not mean that he is less intellegent or does not have talents.
    Yes India needs to go a long way to make the life of disabled people more comfortable. I have seen the problems a person faces at public places and believe me it only makes that person “feel” more disabled. If we have the right infrastructure, disabled people won’t even feel the difference and these kind of disheartening thought would never cross their minds.
    Now I am missing that friend of mine. We haven’t talked for a while. 😦
    And I think this is the longest comment I have ever written, but I just got carried away…

  14. 15 Falcon May 3, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Lol… My dear this is India…
    I am being Sarcastic… You bet I am.

    Reservation for the differentially enabled … It is there But they are the first ne to frown on them… They don’t think they are any less…and they never want to be dicriminated… but yet we do.

    Delhi is not India. I say..leave everything… even the education part…but provide them basic facilities…like public toilet, transport etc. But do we provide them even that??

    Even if the government plans to start some system to help these people can you imagine the cost to provide those services accross India??? This is not to say that we must not begin?

    But thinking of providing those cool screens is insulting our intelligence, and insulting the whole idea, when it is the same government that has failed to provide a glass of clean drinking water to the entire nation.

    I don’t want to see 100 screen enabled software in delhi or Mumbai… if there is not a single disabled friendly public toilet in even the state capitals. But that’s what the government does…. For it catches the eye…

    What do they mean by doin that? Differentially enabled people are human in Metros and others are insects….


    >>You are right about the reservation part. Your words also remind me of a friend in Bangalore, who during the dog-culling crisis said: If I have to ever choose between human and dogs, it will always be human.

    Care to explain the statement???

  15. 16 Poonam Sharma May 5, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    @Falcon: I agree with some of you say and disagree with some of you say. Screen reader is software that reads out stuff, and it is important for visually challenged.

    As for my comments to Ish: We were referring to people who rushed to make hue and cry about mistreating dogs and forget to treat a human with courtesy.

  16. 17 Falcon May 5, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    @ Poonam
    That is because they know… Dogs are much better than human…They are loyal, trustworthy, honest, true… and more caring than humans….
    And this is jus the minisicule amount of information abt their character…..

  17. 18 Shefaly May 5, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    @ Poonam: There was once a radio debate in the UK about whether lives of animals are superior to the lives of humans. I was fascinated to learn how implicit prejudices about the inherent superiority of certain species over others’ can be identified based on people’s views on this issue. πŸ™‚ There is also a religious undertone to it – although the Judeo-christian traditions mark some animals out as impure, their followers are more willing to treat humans on par with animal species (for rights purposes alone) whereas some hindus, who called into the debate and where no animal is explicitly dirty or impure, proclaimed the superiority of the human species based on the 3.6Mn lives-birth-and-death-cycle line of argument.

    That said, I think if animals knew the kind of people who claim to represent their (the animals’) interests as animal rights campaigners, they would rather die than be represented by these inhumans, who are violent, terrorising and plain criminal in their choice of tactics! Many animal research firms from the UK moved to the US because directors could no longer stand their children being terrorised, being threatened with kidnap, or being delivered HIV infected needles (purportedly) at their homes.

  18. 19 Poonam Sharma May 6, 2008 at 4:33 am

    @Falcon: I am not denying that. I was simply stating a friend’s POV (point of view). As for me, I have no blanket rules.

    @Shefaly: I am not sure what to say about religious prejudices. I am not sure if I believe them.

    As for animal right activists, I know what you mean. I am not surprised to hear about the cruelties they threatened. In Bangalore, the human rights activists faced opposition not because everyone felt that dogs must die but because these activists were not genuine. They surfaced from no where to garner publicity while they could. They gave PTC (piece to cameras) ensconced in their fluffy duvets at home, with a pet tagging at their feet. Keeping a pet at home doesn’t make them a animal right activist. What were their credentials to prove about their intention for welfare of the animals? None. Unheard.

  19. 20 pradyot May 6, 2008 at 9:33 am

    The level of research and currentness of the information here is heartening. In the Risk-reward , fear- pleasure or logic based systems of evaluating a person’s worth the disabled amongst us may come up croppers. But when you remember that logic is just a small function of the left lobe of the human brain things come more into perspective. The simple sense of things like “being” ,” loving” , “living” being far larger than “worth” becomes apparent when one looks at them with the innocence of a bird or a tree. By that yardstick, the disabled — being once removed from the stupid games that dominate the rest of us — are in a better position to appreciate and persue life outside the boxlike cells of logic that confine us. If you see the pure joy in the innocent smile of a down’s syndrome child , one can see he is closer to the source of life than the rest of us. In that way the disabled are a bridge, a link to that source , to be cherished. Indeed in loving families and homes , so they are. A gift.

  20. 21 Poonam Sharma May 7, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you for providing me with the magazine that inspired this piece. πŸ™‚
    I agree we need to learn to cherish our disabled. Thinking of them as gifts certainly changes the perspective.

  21. 22 Falcon May 7, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    @ Poonam…

    Sorry Mam…

    Angrezi nahi aati… hame hardik prasanta hogi yadi aap kuch saral shabdoon ka prayog karengi….

  22. 23 Poonam Sharma May 8, 2008 at 10:47 am

    @Falcon: Jaane do yaar, it was about what some one else said.

  23. 24 Mint May 19, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Thank you for good information~~*

    Please comeback to visit my blog too : http://about-accountingsoftware.blogspot.com/

    I’m sorry , If you think this is spam. but may i thank you again.


  1. 1 Disability and Me… « Visceral Observations Trackback on July 4, 2008 at 3:48 pm

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