Clearing ignorance and myth is the first step to mobilising disabled persons.
December 3 is International Day of Disabled Persons. Twenty five years back the UN designated this day to increase awareness about persons with disabilities and to highlight the gains that could be derived by integrating them into every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. It was hoped this effort would mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of the disabled. Each year people with disabilities from around the world, governments and the community take time off to introspect on the situation and to set new goals for the year to come.
This year the UN theme for 3rd December is ‘E-Accessibility’. It recognises the fact that access to information technologies is rapidly influencing the way people see themselves and interact with each other. Information technology is a vital tool towards greater participation and empowerment and the disabled can harness the benefits of IT for the betterment of the sector.
‘E-Accessibility’ is an apt theme indeed. For long the disabled have been strongly lobbying for an equal partnership and say in the development process especially those that influence their lives. They have however been hindered by lack of access to information. The internet is one formidable tool, which if mastered can take the disability sector forward at a faster pace, give the sector the visibility it desperately needs and broadbase it into other movements like women, labour, children and human rights. It is indeed worrisome to imagine people with disabilities not getting the required benefit from the information boom that has so revolutionised present day peoples movements.
Lack of facilities
Yet sadly when we look at the Indian scenario, E-accessibility is hardly the need of the hour. The disabled are still trying to access far more basic facilities like medical facilities, mobility aids, public transport and education. The National Sample Survey Organisation, 2002 on ‘Disabled Persons in India’ found that 55 percent of them are illiterate. If you travel into rural areas trying to understand educational opportunities to children with disabilities even those figures seem exaggerated.
Confined to their homes due to lack of access to mobility devices, or attending school as mute spectators, ignored and pushed into a far corner of the ill lit class, would these children be able to elbow their way for time on the few computers the school has ?.
E-Accessibility could not be further on the minds of the disabled in a country like ours where there are many more pressing demands. In the Indian context a more pertinent theme for the International Day of Disabled Persons therefore, could be ‘Alliance Building’. The disability sector is only just emerging, be it politically or theoretically. Presently, the disability sector is emerging in a relatively isolated environment, with little collaboration, limiting the perspective of the disability sector.
A vast amount of research still needs to be done to actually come up with a road map for intervention be it medical, educational, bringing about social integration, economic independence or political participation. The disability sector will progress much slower than it needs too if the 7 percent of the population who make up the disabled people are left to deal with their own problem. The need of the hour is therefore to build ‘Alliances’ with other peoples movements, with academia, with researchers, with the private sector for employment, for health requirements, for educational facilities, for accessible transport etc.
If alliance building is to happen effectively there is a need for a tremendous amount of awareness. Presently, there is too much of ignorance and myths surrounding disability. What the disability sector and country needs is a massive awareness campaign along the lines of the AIDS or Polio campaign.
The reduction in the stigma associated with disability and the heightened public sensitivity will ease a little of the constant pressures under which the disabled live, it will give them a little more confidence to integrate into other sectors and thus place their issues onto wider platforms. After all the 93 percent of the population which comprises the general community is the greatest ally of the disability sector.
(The writer is the Advocacy Coordinator of the Alliance for Disability Rights.)
The above article was published in the B’lore edition of the Deccan Herald on 4th December 2006