Persons with intellectual disabilities take matters into their own hands through self-advocacy of their rights

Often persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities are thought incapable of taking their own decisions, of independent living or getting formal education. Proving this wrong, many of the intellectually disabled came together to launch a forum for self-advocates -- Self Advocates Forum of India (SAFI) – which held its first ever national convention where they were vocal about being denied the right to a dignified life.

Self- advocacy refers to the civil rights movement of and by the persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities, where they take the onus of fighting for their own rights. Nearly 130 self-advocates representing their respective states came forward to voice their concerns on economic independence, right to education, work, marriage, voting rights and identification, in the Capital last week.

Delegates gave presentations against unfair employment opportunities, which in most cases are virtually non-existent. Many groups demanded reservations in government and private jobs. “We know computers, we are trained in them, but we are not given jobs in the computer industry”, said a delegate from Chhattisgarh. Many of them voiced a desire to lead dignified independent lives, and become self-sustaining through proper employment. A delegate said that even when they are offered jobs, they work as much as any other employee but receive far lesser incomes. In a combined group discussion, many asked for equal voting rights.

According to a report compiled by Amita Dhanda and Gabor Gombos, in ‘Catalysing Self Advocacy- an experiment in India’, “Persons with disabilities face exclusion from participation in both public and private life… (In order to overcome the exclusion from society, the disabled) community needs to obtain voice for its own perspective and experience”. This observation was certainly seen in the group discussions and presentations where many self-advocates spoke against the borderline and otherwise marginalisation, and urged to be treated as equal parts of the society.

Delegates from Karnataka advocated the need for appropriate pension schemes and proper identification provisions. Delegates from Kerala asked for compulsory vocational training for those with intellectual disabilities and support from government in their entrepreneurial ventures. Tamil Nadu urged for proper representation in panchayats and expressed the desire to participate in state-level elections.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) calls for state bodies to ensure equal legal status, right to live in the community with choices equal to others, right to participation in political and public life, liberty and security, among other provisions for persons with disabilities. “Nothing about us without us” was the slogan which resonated across the United Nations during the negotiations for the CRPD, which continued to resound in spirit at the self advocacy forum.

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