It is the 3rd of December, and the day is observed as the "International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. The purpose for the observance of this day is to widen our outlook and promote the understanding of the concept of disability and mobilize local, national and International support for the rights, dignity and well-being of the persons with disabilities. It is observed with the aim to have the full integration of a big section of the society that is persons with disabilities with the rest in different aspects of life like social, political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological.
Disability is a complex and multifaceted concept. Its meaning differs across the territories along numerous associated legal political and social constructs. Disabilities such as physical challenges, acid attacks or dwarfism are easy to identify but the disabilities like mental illness, specific learning disabilities, hearing impairments or autism are comparatively difficult and complex to identify without appropriate training. Hence disability is more complex where we lack the symptoms or have minimum visual manifestations that can easily be identified by the parents, teachers and the general society. Disability, in simple terms, is a physical or mental condition or both that limits individuals movement, activities or sense of perception.
In India Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act of 2016 recognizes 21 disability conditions. It has replaced Persons with Disabilities ( PWD) Act 1995 which recognized only seven disability conditions. The Right of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 is in pure harmony with the United Nations Convention on Right of Persons With Disabilities and provides a legal framework, generates awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities and promotes equity based inclusion. Of the one billion population of Persons with disabilities 80% live in developing countries. It is estimated that 46% of the older people aged 60 years and over are people with disabilities and one in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life while one in every ten children is a child with a disability. Despite being so numerous, persons with disabilities are still overwhelmingly overlooked and are not properly treated the way they deserve as human beings.
The field realities across the country are totally different from the international and national legal and constitutional provisions. The persons with disabilities are facing a lot of discrimination due to the prejudice and biases in society. The most vulnerable area that falls prey to the discrimination is education. The day which we are observing actually demands certain pledges from us for which we have to work hard. In order to facilitate the welfare and the overall development of the people around us with any sort of disability, we have to go a mile ahead and design the things which may prove easy, relevant and helpful for the people with special needs.
The first step towards the progress and prosperity of these people is the early identification process. It is better that the identification process of the persons with disabilities should begin ideally at the moment of birth. The needs of people arising due to the disability should be appropriately addressed and they should be supported to realize their full potential within the society. Hence it is opt to say here that the early and appropriate identification of the conditions of disability facilitates special attention for the implementation of required educational, social, economic and political interventions.
The second step for the welfare is proper education. Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. It is the education which provides every individual the opportunity to dream, thrive and contribute to the society and nation he or she belongs to. Education aims to benefit the way that no person loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of the circumstances of birth, background and any disability.
In the field of education there is the need to redesign the settings in order to have:
- Equal opportunities for the children with special needs. (Democratic settings of the classroom)
- Conducive educational environment for the children with special needs. ( CWSN friendly infrastructure and supportive school environment)
- To facilitate the retention and completion of schooling of these children. ( Resource rooms with special teacher educators)
- To facilitate the cooperative living and mainstreaming of the children with special needs.( Those who learn together, learn to live together)
- To develop the knowledge, skills and understanding of key strategies critical for living a decent human life. ( Vocational courses)
- To involve these children with the other students of the school in all the activities of School.( School can serve as a nursery for an inclusive society)
Once the process of education for the people with any sort of disability is complete half work of the welfare is done. After education there is a need to look for the decent living. A decent living here refers to the following things:
- There are enough opportunities for them to earn their livelihood with full honour. In order to earn the livelihood we have to create the suitable workplace conditions for them in accordance with their abilities, capacities and capabilities.
- These people deserve the equal social and political status in society. Society must have the social values and ethics on the basis of which these people not face any sort of discrimination. The country must have a certain amount of affirmative action favouring the people with special needs because they have suffered in the past due to the disabilities. As the equal partners of the system, this section must have the equal opportunities to participate in the process of decision making. When they are at the helm of affairs they may legislate better policies and apply the same for their betterment.
- The next intervention which the persons with disability need is to have the special and need specific environment and engagement in the social, cultural, religious and economic fields. We have to create a genuine space for them in accordance with their special needs. This space is needed in the schools, hospitals, mosques, public parks, means of transport, cultural events etc. We do already have some space for them but it is not up to the mark and is not satisfying the ultimate aim.
The day which we do observe every year calls for the general attitudinal change and adjustment of the common masses in the society so that a large section of the people get the chance to live their life the way they deserve with all the rights, respect, dignity, honour and privilege. They never ask for sympathy and the things they do not deserve, they only ask for the respect, honour, position and power which we owe to them. In order to create the society based on democratic principles like liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, the persons with disabilities never claimed to uplift them the position where the fully abled person are and which they occupy instead they ask you to come a bit down and have a hand-holding for them so that the process for their upliftment may appear easier.
In the opening ceremony of the ongoing FIFA World Cup at Qatar, the Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman came down to his knees in order to shake his hand with a special abled young man Ghanim Al Muftah. The two created the scene worth to watch full of respect, dignity and human values in the form of universal massage for tolerance and togetherness:
" What unites us is greater than what divides us. We are one big tribe and the earth is our tent. Together we can make the call for everyone to unite".
This day asks for the same kind of approach and understanding from us towards all those specially abled people who live around us in the same environment with common value and cultural ethos. In a modern educated society, human values are more valuable and cherished than the ability disability complexes. Let we cherish the values and treat all equally and make the place we occupy more beautiful and tolerant.
(The Author is Sr. Academic Officer SCERT J&K and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)