Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Are PWDs a Burden to Their

Families?

disability In early August 2008 , India witnessed an interesting debate sparked off by a couple in Mumbai who wanted to abort their 6 month old fetus, after doctors reported that the child would be born with a congenital heart condition that would require medical care throughout the child’s life. The parents coming from a middle class family believed they would not be able to afford the constant costs of medical treatment and therefore wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

A prominent news channel then conducted a countrywide online poll to find out how many people though that People with Disabilities (PWDs) are a burden to their families. The ethics of terminating a 6 month pregnancy not withstanding, an astounding 91% of those polled, felt that indeed PWDs were a burden to their families and so obviously, couples should have special rights to abort a fetus with potential disability. A rather strange paradox one should say, for while India is being touted as a ‘developing nation’ with over 8% growth rate and is displaying tremendous potential on all fronts, we seem unconcerned that we lack the infrastructure and the social conscience to allow PWDs to live.

Undoubtedly, in India disability is an expensive affaire. A PWD will require a minimum of twice the amount of income as non disabled person to live a comfortable life, this depending on the type of disability a person has and assuming s/he can earn themselves an income. Probably not a single system in the country, be it health, education, employment, transport or social welfare, is structured to cater to the special needs of PWDs. They thus live on the crumbs, doled out to their miserable lot out of sympathy. Knowing the situation, one can hardly blame unfortunate parents for wanting to spare themselves and their child year upon years of trauma, struggle, anxiety and anguish. Yet, around 2 lakh children are born in India every year with congenital heart diseases and when one thinks of this single incident turning into a trend, one cannot help but dread the consequences in a country the size of India.

Even if we choose not to listen to the pangs of our conscience, we are forced to answers this question. To what extent will we go to sterilize our communities and societies? How many ‘abnormal’, ‘defective’, people are we going to wipe out, wouldn’t those include the people with terminal illnesses, the aged and those with mental illnesses. So the answer for any country obviously does not lie in an abortion.

What we need

All PWDs will tell you that what they need is not sympathy from either the Government or Society, but an opportunity to achieve their true potential. Now this is a rather loaded sentence and means that they should be able to pursue what ever academic option they want, travel around freely, have adequate medical benefits depending on their type of disability, and have adequate social benefits so that their care gives are not left worrying about the future of their ward. What PWDs want is that attitudes towards them not be biased and based on sympathy but one of respect.

Six decades after independence and more than a decade since the passing of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, PWDs are still striving for an inclusive society, battling day in an out with discriminatory attitudes and open hostility. Little seems to have changed and there is much despair, but can PWDs wish away their problems or throw their hands and give up. They are demanding policies, infrastructure and budgetary allocations. That Governments both State and National make good their promises and implement legislation like The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, which although progressive are paper tigers, and while PWDs still have abundant fight in them, they sincerely hope that people like you, the readers, will vigorously support their cause, so that sometime soon, 91% of this country will come to believe that PWDs are no longer a burden to their families but other human being full of tremendous potential and ambition, and with a natural desire to live.

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