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

Archive for the ‘Articles on Disability’ Category

People with Disabilities and the Recession

With the recession, tough economic times are upon most of us. Companies continue to maintain their freeze on recruitment, salary cuts are common, and layoffs informed to employees an hour before the end of the week. Non written communication to work longer hours is common place. Most people are glad they can retain their job, but the axe is not, say most companies, a matter of choice, some people must go so that the majority can stay, and during this time of deep economic uncertainty one wonders about  the situation of People with disabilities (PwDs).

India has nearly 70 million PwDs in the country. Those lucky to be employed predominantly find themselves in IT companies, telemarketing and BPOs.  A survey of the top 100 corporate houses in India, in 1999, show a mere 0.4% of their workforce was PwDs. Nothing has dramatically changed in the last ten years, PwDs continue to struggle to get employment in the best of times and with the current freeze on recruitment, their chances are as good as zero. Additionally is the bias that PwDs are ‘incapable’, most companies also unwilling or unable to make their premises ‘accessible’, which also acts as a hurdle, and so one can conclude with worrying certainty that PwDs are twice as badly hit by the recession as non disabled people.

If disability groups were demanding tax rebates as incentives for companies hiring PwDs before, now the situation is far more urgent. More so as most PwDs require to earn approximately twice as much as their non disabled counterparts to enjoy the same standard of living.

Few know with any certainty when the recession is going to end or how long it will take the economy to recover, would the Government then undertake a study to find out the effects of the recession on PwDs, would it then take measures to change the situation. Most disability groups believe, that with more pressing needs, they have little chance of getting Government attention. They have fewer expectations as none of the political parties even made a mention of these 70 million PwDs in their election manifesto. All PwDs can expect are a few more social welfare schemes, but with a limited budget and a large number of PwDs clamoring for them, chances are slim that there will be a diametric change.

Whether we like it or not, the 70 million PwDs are too big a population to ignore and brush aside, whether the new Government at the centre likes it or not, it will have to do something that will improve the economic lives of PwDs and pull them back from the ‘vulnerable’ list.

As I look around, I see the recession has turned into a god sent opportunity for young enterprising Indians. I am seeing more people in their 30s set up businesses of their own than ever before and perhaps PwDs need to be heading in the same direction.

With a little bit financial assistance from the Government and some training on business they are just as capable of success as any other businessman and we hope that’s what they will get by way of Government assistance.

Shut up and vote


It’s only a slim rectangular paper, with a black and white picture of me, but on top of the paper is prominently written, ‘Voters Identity’ card and I look at it with pride and joy.

Most young people begin voting at 18, when the country and law recognizes them as ‘major’ in age. At 18, they have a stake in the country’s destiny whether through the click of a button or a stamp on a paper. But as much as I longed for it, I had no such opportunity, so this ‘Voters Identity’ card has a special meaning for me.

It becomes all the more cherishable when one thinks of the numerous attempts made to get the Voters Identity card. Numerous fights with local officials to have my name added to the voters, and the numerous times I traveled, from Bangalore to my home, only to be refused the card.

When I look back, there are some things that able bodied people take for granted, like getting their voters ID cards but for a person with disabilities, the effort is ten times more, and I guess it’s just easier to push people like us around. While able bodied people have a choice, to vote or not to vote, many choose to sit home and let the day pass by. Many young people just can’t image they can shape the destiny of this country. But for us people with disabilities, there are less choice, there are few opportunities. For example I’m not sure how I’m going to be accessing the polling booth, if it does not have a ramp for my wheelchair, I will need to have somebody carry me up to the polling booth! Or I can choose not to vote, but that aren’t an option, not this time, not ever.

While people with disability fight to get their names on voters lists, fight to get their identity cards and fight to have polling booths accessible to them, political parties are yet to recognize them as a cohesive group, well 7-10% of the population is no small number, is it. Yet, there is no mention of us in party manifestos, there wasn’t much of a mention of us the budgets, be they National or State. So we people with disabilities still have a look way to go.

But I have the ‘Voters Identity’ now and I shall vote. this election I shall vote every time henceforth, not just to participate in this democracy and countries destiny but as a symbol that we people with disabilities are a lobby and we are uniting.

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools


I couple of days back, at a little past 6.p.m, I was rushing through the last few things for the day, getting ready to dash for the bus, and psychologically preparing for the tiring task of standing the 45 minutes home, when I was a distracted by the incoming mail as it popped up in Gmail window. It said an old school friend had tagged me on Facebook.

It has been nearly 4 years that I have left Goa, a lot more since I lost contact with people and events in my village and so it has been years. But my school stands large and looming, not just physically but also in my minds eye. My twelve years of school were right there. Twelve years of memory, imprinted on a developing mind can fill up a rather large space, even now when tons of experiences and day to day life clutters on. My school, the village can still be recalled, a large bulky volume? and so that mail from this old school mate instantly filled me with a warm glow. The same kind as soft golden wine would bring, on a tiring day.

I accepted the invitation to add him to my Facebook instantly, saved his mail id and sent him a brief mail in minutes. He was excited that I was online and had written back to him so fast. Our words instantaneous, warm. In my minds eye I could see him, sitting somewhere at a desk with that huge ear to ear smile that always filled his face, that unforgettable sparkle in his jet black eyes. The pictures that filled my mind were old ones, his hair straight and falling over his forehead, and then some other thoughts intruded into the forefront.


I have worked ‘officially’ on disability issues for a little under a year, but my friends with disability have had a lasting impact on my life. My time with them has since coloured my perception and it popped up here too. My old school friend and fellow villager from Saligao, Goa was also a person with disabilities (PwDs), thought he probably would not fit in with the definition used by the government. But he definitely was my first exposure with a PwDs. Then, I didn’t know about ‘disability’ as an issue and would have described him as someone with a strange gait.

Some more memories, of kids in maroon short pants and pink shirts, running after each other on the playground. Kids have endless and uncontainable energy and in my minds ear I could hear, calling names……, names that weren’t pleasant. They were used to tease. Relentlessly through the day, for years, and the warm glow, wasn’t all that warm anymore.


I particularly remember this school mate being teased and bullied for having a deformity and can empathize with him because I myself was bullied and teased. Relentlessly, for years. I was tiny, still am, and that became point of ridicule. If somebody told me children as little as five and six years of age can tease, to the point of harass and bully each other, I would never have believed then, definitely not if I had not been a victim myself.

In my minds eye, images are fresh, like they happened yesterday of yet another classmate who was again constantly bullied. His bag hidden in the bin, in the sink, I can still see him frantically searching for his bag even while the other kids ran around teasing and laughing.

Undoubtedly, bulling and teasing that actually amounts to harassment, is an issue in schools. I know it is a big and recognized issue in schools abroad, I don’t believe it is recognized as a serious issue in schools in India or in its numerous States.

Bullying gains an additionally serious dimension when the person being bullied is a person with disabilities. I know I carry the scars of the constant bullying and harassment, I’m sure my old classmate carries them too, since it was a lot harsher for him.

When I look back I’m filled with anger. Couldn’t the teachers see and hear the bullying, I never heard a single teacher voice her disapproval nor did I hear a reprimand. I wonder if teachers have since become aware of the issue of bullying, if they take a stand about it now.

In hind sight I feel shocked, that not a single teacher in my school was sensitive enough to see this boy’s pain, forget about address it.

Children with disabilities have a huge battle when it comes to simply attending schools. Finding an accessible school is a big challenge and additionally is the burden of being bullied.


If there is something I’d like to advocate from this rambling piece is that bullying in school should be addressed with zero tolerance. Parents, school children and most importantly teachers need to make themselves aware about the lasting effects of bullying.

If you are a parent in India reading this, please raise the issue of bullying in your Parent Teachers Association (PTA), if you’ve a student please take a stand against bullying. School should be fun, I would not wish anyone to experience the pain I or my classmate with disabilities did, simply because other children had not been taught to be sensitive.

If you are a teacher, please sensitize your students to issues related to disability. After all these are the students who will grow to be parents themselves, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats etc. Insensitive children make insensitive adults.

How secure are women with disabilities?

How secure are women with


womenrightsRecently I heard of two incidents which made me ask myself this very question, how secure are women with disabilities (WwD)?

In one incident a young mother of 35 hung her two teenage daughters both intellectually challenged, and herself. I guess she got tired of the pressures of life, the social stigma for having intellectually challenged daughters and an alcoholic husband. In the second case, a intellectually challenged girl, in a near by rural district, was taking food for her father in the field. On the way she was accosted, raped and murdered.

rightsThese two incidents bring to the fore one prominent fact, WwD; particularly women with mental illness and those intellectually challenged are not safe, either in their homes or in public.

In the first incident, the girls were obviously a burden to their mother, who was a poor lady, fighting for sustenance. She probably worried about what would happen to her children after she grew too old to provide for them. To her tormented mind, suicide was the only option.

Yet, she needed to be told that there was help. She needed to be given help. We have the Mental Health Act 1987, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities and Full Participation) Act 1995, The Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Indian Penal Code and probably more legislations than you and I can recall. Yet how many of these legislations are preventive, how many call for policy changes, how many policies that have been drafted and passed are being implemented? So many questions and the death of these girls is answer enough, about the situation of despair.

In the second incident, the girl was probably mildly intellectually challenged, so she was able to follow simple instructions and was taking lunch to her father. Obviously some lecherous man found in this simply girl a soft target. He also found in her a dispensable target. Undoubtedly this incident reveals a debased mind, but what about the girl, what does her family learn from this incident. What do other families with intellectually challenged girls learn from this incident? Do any of us expect that the girl and her family will get justice? Should we write this off as yet another death that will go by with no lessons learnt?


All those who are intellectually challenged are not ‘useless’. There are different degrees of disability. Depending upon the degree, they can be trained, to take care of themselves, to take simple decisions and even do simple tasks that can allow them to earn a small living. Yet families are made to believe they have people who are vegetables.


This article is full of questions. I don’t have answers to all of them, but I am searching, and perhaps you would like to join in too.

If you are an NGO or an association for people with disabilities (PwD), please put the security of WwD prominent on your agenda. If you are a parent with an intellectually challenged child please join parents associations, experience the strength of a collective and begin lobbing the government for welfare facilities. If you are a sensitive citizen and are concerned about PwD and WwD, please volunteer time. If you are a bureaucrat or are in a position of power please leverage it so that the lives of a few PwD are made better or even saved.

Teaching aid

Teaching aid on

‘Inclusion of Children with Autism’

Teaching aids for children with disabilities are scare and far between, and so it is a great effort that the National Trust recently published a Handbook for teachers on ‘Inclusion of Children with Autism’

Interestingly it is also available for free download

Meeting a Deafblind lawyer

Meeting a deaf-blind lawyer,

Mr. Riku Virtanen

Riku VirtanenRecently, thanks to a programme organized by the Bangalore Unit of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and the Society for Human Rights, Bangalore, I was able to have my first ever meeting with a deaf-blind person. Mr. Riku Virtanen is a lawyer who specializes in human rights and hails from Finland.

Interestingly, even thought Mr. Virtanen is young, he is already rather accomplished. A Board member on the Threshold Association (a human rights organization which promotes the rights of persons with disabilities in Finland), he is also a Consultant Member on the Board of the Finnish Deafblind Association and has worked on several reports and surveys in Finnish.

Mr Virtanen has also published a survey in English related to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in May 2008 and in addition was at two Ad Hoc meetings when the United Nations was preparing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

braille-bookMy first thought, which was a strong motivator for attending this meeting, was how does a person who is both deaf and blind communicate? I had heard about deaf-blindness thanks to Helen Keller, but reading about Helen Keller was theory, meeting someone who was like her was intriguing. And there was Mr Virtanen, sitting at his Braille display board with his two interpreters by his side; incidentally both of them are named Jenni (pronounced Yenni in Finish).

deafblindcoataspenMr Virtanen uses a combination of Jaws and the Braille display board when he is working on the computer. His Braille display board acts as both a keyboard and a monitor. Text on the screen uses Jaws and converts itself into Braille, it then displays itself on his Braille display board. The Braille display board can also be typed on and the content will get converted into text on the computer. This is how Mr Virtanen surfs the net, replies to his mail and types into his computer.

Signing HandsAdditionally, Mr Virtanen also uses sign language to communicate with those around him, and by placing his hand on the hand of the interpreter who is also signing, can read what is being said to him!. Thanks to his supporting country Mr Virtanen is also lucky to have a cochlear implant which along with a hearing aid allows him to hear albeit only slightly.

Just sitting at the discussion with Mr Virtanen was an interesting process in participating in an ‘Inclusive Discussion’. The participants had to speak slowly to allow the first interpreter to type on what those around were saying into the computer, even while Mr Virtanen kept feeling and thus reading his way on the Braille display board.

When Mr Virtanen wanted to intervene he would sign and vocalize to his interpreter in Finnish, who would then translate it into English for the audience. A seemingly slow process, but an interesting lesson in inclusion, participation and democracy at a discussion. Amazingly, Mr Virtanen reads and writes English, but speaks Finish! Don’t ask me to explain this one J

Undoubtedly, Finland is a better place to be in for a deaf-blind person, than India. This country allowed, Mr. Riku Virtanen to go to school, college and then law school. However Mr. Virtanen assures us it wasn’t easy, having a disability is an expensive affaire, as the person requires assistive devices, assistive technologies and a personal assistant as in the case of Mr. Virtanen. His parents had to fight with the government to have them fund these facilities and that’s how Mr. Virtanen got introduced to the ‘Rights’ issue of disability, it also guided him to law.

Interestingly, Mr. Virtanen lives independently in Finland, though he requires assistance when he goes out. He currently uses the white cane to move around but is also accompanied by a personal assistant. Mr. Virtanen hopes to get himself a guiding dog sometime soon.

Mr. Virtanen also has hobbies just like all other people, and they include chess, fishing and collecting ancient books, which he clarified, he does not read J.

What came across from the discussion was that a country like Finland, allows a person with disability to live as independent and fulfilled a life as a non-disabled person and that’s what Mr. Virtanen said as much.

But all is not rosy; Finland has much scope to improve, especially in terms of accessibility. It is also yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but that is because it is currently trying to harmonize its internal legislation with the international one.

India on the other hand is quiet the reverse. It is quick to ratify any international convention and laws, but is extremely slow to implement these changes national, and it is needless to say that this is the case with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities too.

Listening to her heart

Listening to her heart


Disability rights activist Michele Friedner, who has severe bilateral hearing loss herself, is now studying how disability is tackled in everyday life. Bharathi Prabhu has the details

“Hmmm, my achievements?  Getting a gas connection, wrangling for a research permit from the Commissioner of police, braving Bangalore traffic….” ticks off Michele Friedner on her fingers.

Typical “foreigner in India” speak? Wait till you hear about Michele’s other and more significant achievements. Graduating from a large public high school at the top of her class and later from an Ivy League university with a magna cum laude degree, working as a disability rights activist, getting published in the globally reputed Economic and Political Weekly, pursuing her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley… All these despite her severe-profound bilateral hearing loss.

To read the rest of this article visit Deccan Herald

Disabled excluded from places of worship

Disabled excluded from places of



I have numerous friends who are affected by polio or have suffered spinal injuries and so, are wheelchair bound. And I was astounded to note that few if any had access to places of worship, be it Temples or Churches.

Religion is undoubtedly a private issue but each of us have always found the need to turn to the house of god, not just during festivals but even for a few moments to commune with he who watches over us. And it is probably the greatest infringement of the Human Rights of People with Disabilities (PwDs) that they cannot visit a Temple or Church when ever they feel like it. I specifically mention Temples and Churches as they are more numerous and observable in a place like Bangalore.

Most of these places of worship either have a steep flight of steps leading up to them or they prevent people entering their premises with foot ware, or both. I have often questioned my friends on wheelchairs about this exclusion, and they seem to take it with the resignation that they are forced to adopt, for so many other places are also denied to them. With his own place of worship out of bounds to him, one of my non Christian friends prefers to accompany me to Church, as it is accessible and offers him a place and opportunity to pray.

This is of course is unfair, Exclusion, in this time and age speaks poorly of our Communities and our religious leaders, who have failed to keep up with the changing needs of their Communities.

Even thought, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is now 13 years old, Chapter 8 on Non-Discrimination speaks only about Government buildings and is conspicuously silent on community places like places of worship.

temple_stepsUndoubtedly, this is just one of the inadequacies of the Act which is sorely in need of amendment. But the question is are we, the Community, going to wait for an Amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, before we welcome our brethren with disabilities to share in the community and personal experience of worship?

While we accept that traditions run deep, this exclusion and discrimination needs to be addressed. I think what is needed is a proactive approach, from all the stakeholders. PwDs need to approach the places of worship near them and sensitize the community and religious leaders to the needs of PwDs. The Disability Commissioners at the National and State level need to initiate a dialogue, with religious leaders, calling for sensitivity and offering suggestions for modification of temple and Church structures. As a group PwDs need to lobby for an amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

temple_steps_againMost of these changes be it ramps, railings, tactile tiles or prominent signage’s would hardly cost much and would also benefit others like the elderly. So hope 2009 breaks one more barrier for PwDs.


Making the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela


Naz, Myself and Nagaraj

Naz, Myself and Nagaraj

While the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela was undoubtedly a fantastic initiative, we who were there along with Nagaraj, who is wheelchair bound, could not help but notice that accessibility for people with disabilities way grossly overlooked. With steps leading to a major part of the stalls, including the little amphitheater that held the cultural events, Nagaraj, could only access the lower stalls, which surrounded the Chitra Kala Parishad building.

Those with speech and hearing impairment would probably have benefited if there were little information boards, which mentioned the State from where the artisans came and the brochures if prominently displayed would have elaborated for further details. Of course the visually impaired would have been in need of an escort considering the venue was really crowded and a Braille brochure would have worked wonders for them.

Steps leading to the amphitheater

Steps leading to the amphitheater

The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater

Many of these issues, such as ramps for wheelchair users and information boards for the hearing impaired would have benefited not just people with disabilities but others like senior citizens, and saved people like me from repeating the same questions again and again. All these things could have been addressed with a little bit of management and better organization and so it’s surprisingly, very do-able. I’m sure organizations like Mobility India, the Association of People with Disability, Action Aid, Mithra Jyothi, and the 40 odd organizations in Bangalore working on disability would have been glad to advise and assist on this front.

In a scenario where people with disabilities are trying to mainstream their concerns into the larger Peoples Movements and where they are aggressively lobbing with the Government for Rights, being left out of an initiative organized by a fellow non-governmental organization, which is expected to be sensitive, is in bad taste.

On the other hand, being part of the disability movement, the lack of ‘accessibility’ at the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela only goes to highlight the fact that much work still needs to be done, and it is only when civil society organizations and non-governmental organization are sensitized to the issues of disability that the Disability Sector will get the required support and broad base itself.

Pictures by Jasmine Nongrum

Right to life?

Does an unborn child with disability

have the right to life?

Dear All, I’m sure those of you who hear the news on television have been hearing the news about how the Bombay High Court on 4th August 2008 rejected the plea of Niketa and Harish Mehta’s to abort their 24-week-old foetus.

Doctors say their unborn child may have a congenital heart defect, not enough to be born with a serious handicap but will require a pacemaker from birth. The Court ruled that a predicted disability is no ground for abortion. The parents argue they will not be able to afford the constant medical fees that they will be burdened with.

India has the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 and this is the first case that has challenged it. Being deeply concerned about issues of disability I have been trying, over the last two days to formulate a response and it is here that I came across the website of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. This link is worth a read –

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