Some food for thought on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

There are success stories “despite odds” and everyday struggles. Instances of gross discrimination and clear neglect are many. All these, at best, represent only some of the challenges faced by persons with disability, while many issues continue haunting them for years.

Addressing them in a consistent and holistic fashion is what will help them lead life with dignity, independence and peace, say persons with disabilities and activists campaigning for their rights, ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3).

Mridangam artist Erode Nagaraj, disciple of veteran Umayalpuram Sivaraman, turned down quite a few offers to perform this music season. “It's not that I do not want to play, but the thought of negotiating with several fleets of stairs or crawling up to the stage is dreadful. Sabhas simply do not have the will to construct suitable ramps,” says the sought-after accompanist.

Though he has requested secretaries of some sabhas to make the provision several times, Mr. Nagaraj says not much has changed in the last decade. “Mridangam playing has been a passion and I took it up full time for the same reason. But these days, I have often begun to wonder if I should have chosen some other field,” he says.

Ask him about toilet facilities in sabhas and he says: “Oh, let us get the basic facilities first. If there are ramps that help me go to the dais using my wheelchair, I can even avoid using the restroom for those few hours.” Not just sabhas, most government offices and public spaces are yet to recognise specific needs of persons with disability. “We continue to be subjected to discrimination. I am tired of sympathetic gazes and empty promises,” he says.

If mobility issues are of concern to those like Mr. Nagaraj, there are also many persons with disability waging their battles for livelihood issues.

Sensitivity

In connection with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Tamil Nadu Association for the Welfare of the Differently Abled has put forth a set of demands, including special recruitment drives for the disabled, job reservation in private sector, and a special university.

Though some initiatives of the State government, including the launch of disabled-friendly buses recently, seek to empower persons with disability, a comprehensive approach and basic sensitivity are still lacking in government agencies and society at large, say persons with disability. Action begins and ends with the introduction of a scheme. Nobody looks at how effective a scheme is, says S. Namburajan, State Secretary, Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers.

“The amount under the Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme has been raised from Rs.500 to Rs.1,000 a month, but the qualifying norms are so unreasonable. The clauses say the family of the person should not possess wealth of over Rs.5,000 or that the beneficiary should not have an able-bodied son or grandson aged above 18,” he says.

Pointing to a host of problems in obtaining disability certificates, he says: “The system is neither efficient nor transparent.”

Recruitment

Activists also highlight irregularities in reserving three per cent of the jobs in government departments for persons with disability. “The Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission should be facilitating this reservation in all departments. But we have 60 departments with not a single person with disability,” says C. Govindakrishnan, founder, Nethrodaya.

If the government succeeds in implementing this policy, the prospects for many individuals with disability will brighten considerably, he notes. “There are several GOs aimed at making lives of the disabled easier. But the implementation is very poor,” Mr. Namburajan adds.

“Data needed”

Another area that needs immediate attention, according to Mr. Govindakrishnan, is the need for a database of persons with disability. “The census does not look at categories closely. A partially-blind person wearing spectacles would also qualify as visually-impaired. The government needs to do something about this soon,” he says.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012