Imagine you are on the fourth floor of a shopping complex and you sprain your ankle, or you are in a city where people speak a language unknown to you. If only the building had an elevator or the city had signboards in a familiar language, you would be at ease.

Such situations that highlight difficulties faced by persons with disability are part of the training workshop that the Census Department, along with a few city-based NGOs, is engaged in.

The comprehensive programme under way over last few months is an attempt to acquaint enumerators with various kinds of disability before they set out for upcoming census operations.

The question on disability on the census sheet has come up to the ninth position this from the 15{+t}{+h} in 2001. The last census listed 2.13 per cent of the population as disabled, a figure most experts say is misleading, given that several international agencies claim the numbers could be anywhere between five and 10 per cent.

“Nearly 7,000 enumerators for Chennai alone, and as many as 1.5 lakh for the State are being trained repeatedly to make sure the exercise is implemented with credibility,” says S. Gopalakrishnan, Director, Census Operations, Tamil Nadu. “The enumerators are also being sensitised about the damage caused due to the under-counting of persons with disability,” he added.

The enumerators have been trained not to ask for disability certificates, or any proof that may reduce their chances of opening up, says Meenakshi Balasubramanian, Assistant coordinator, Disability Legislation Unit (Vidya Sagar), who is also involved in the training process. They have also been asked not to probe the disability, or use derogatory words to identify the disability, or even counsel them, she says.

T. M. N. Deepak, vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation adds that enumerators have been asked to accept whatever people say, though all national identification of disability demands doctor-certified 40 per cent disability.

The enumerators have been trained to explain disability to people in simple language and ask the question to every member of the household without making assumptions. “Actions such as not changing your expression when they talk about disability and listening to them will help strike the correct rapport with people,” says Ms. Balasubramanian. Concerns may also arise when the enumerator rushes with the questions or assumes that the disability might be age-associated, she adds.

Multiple categories

Apart from seven disabilities relating to vision, hearing, speech, mental retardation, movement, mental illness and multiple disability, the Census will also recognise people with autism, progeria, inherited bleeding disorders (thalassaemia or haemophilia), epileptic seizures, specific learning disabilities (dyslexia) in the ‘other category'.

“Many disabled people single-handedly run families, hence it is important to know other details such as their income-level,” says Janaki Pillai, Director (operations) of Ability Foundation. The enumerators are being trained to carry on with the questioning even after the question of disability has been answered. Besides explaining the purpose of such an exercise, assuring people of the confidentiality of the records is very important to seek their co-operation, she adds.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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