A significant, yet disbursed vote bank in Tamil Nadu, the persons with disabilities in the State have taken strength in their numbers (about 22 lakh) to make demands that range from tax concessions to free bus passes. The 22 lakh persons estimated to be with disabilities in Tamil Nadu comprise persons with locomotor disability, visual impairment, hearing impairment, speech impairment, mental retardation, mental illness, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and those with multiple disabilities.

Right on top of the list of demands of various groups, is the demand for easy access. “We want the government to ensure a barrier-free environment in all the private/public buildings, government offices, educational institutions and establishments,” says K. Gopinath, member, Tamil Nadu Welfare Board for the differently-abled.

A barrier-free environment had been promised by many parties in the past, but has been, at best, an unfulfilled poll promise.

More regulated and timely distribution of aids and appliances, free bus pass for all members of the differently-abled groups, and increasing the monthly pension from Rs.500 to Rs.1000 for all categories of persons with disabilities, are some other demands.

A three per cent reservation in all government sectors and performance-linked promotions has found a mention once again in the ‘manifesto' that the community has fashioned for itself. G. Chidambaranathan, State president of the Tamil Federation of Physically Challenged Associations, explained that the government had even passed G.Os to implement the 3 per cent reservation rule and even set in place a monitoring committee to over see this. “Nothing has been done so far,” he added.

“While it is important for the government to continue their welfare schemes for the differently-abled, we are keen that they do not consider us merely as beneficiaries of charity and doles,” C. Govinda Krishnan, founder, Nethrodaya said. Other demands, as articulated by the community, include formation of a separate university in the State for rehabilitation of the disabled; waiving professional tax and property tax for all the disabled; extending the special monthly conveyance allowance of Rs.1000, paid at present only to the orthopaedically handicapped and visually challenged State government employees, to the hearing impaired persons as well.

Mr. Gopinath said, the government must build and allot special houses for the disabled. Providing driving licenses to the modified retro-fitted vehicles (2-wheelers and 4-wheelers) by the government is an important demand.

Mr. Govinda Krishnan added, “It is a dream for many of us that a person with disability would head the department and the Ministry. All political parties should consider reserving seats in the Assembly for persons with different abilities.”