In May 2013, a group of journalism students from a French university visited Pune to write about the condition of drought in Maharashtra. Their plan was to go in the inner parts of the State with city-based students, who would help them as translators. In the group, there was a specially-abled student. As a student of journalism myself, I was surprised to see his determination in a not so disabled-friendly environment, which my city, State as well as country provided him. However, none of this deterred his will to travel to cities and towns of Marathwada for his work.
What further astounded me was the behaviour of his teammates towards him. They were respectful, helpful, emphathatic and more cautious about not hurting this student’s self respect in any way. A behaviour that is very rare to witness in a country like India, where according to the 2011 Census, 2.21 per cent of the general population are specially-abled.
Coming from a developed country, this specially-abled student had equal opportunities like others. He was given the chance to become more than his disability. His identity was his passion and will. This simple example can tell us what miracles equal treatment and equal opportunity can do.
According to the Government of India, seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, mental illness and multiple disabilities are included under specially-abled. In a unique initiative in Pune, a city based doctor started a matrimonial site for specially-able persons. Dr Sameer Desai started www.divyangmatrimony.in a few months back, as he realised that many patients, who visit him, face the issue of finding the right partner. “The idea was to help them find the right life partner. Hence, we have a number of marriage counsellors and medical counsellors, who can help the pair in medical related queries. Many potential grooms and brides post their profile here. On December 9, a few of them will be tying the knot,” said Desai.
He added that the challenges the patients face are not just about survival but also of basic things like finding a job.
“Many patients complain that they face difficulties while getting jobs. As many employers take their disability as their weakness and ignore their plus points. Hence, people with special abilities demand empathy and not sympathy. The idea is to give them equal opportunities and let them be proud of their strengths rather than be judged on their weakness,” said Desai.
He also highlighted that specially-abled couples also face a lot of issues. “Many couples, who are hearing impaired have doubts whether their children also will be hearing impaired. Such issues can be tacked by counselling. Moreover, in all of these issues, awareness is paramount,” said Desai.
Recently, a small town named Clonakilty in Ireland became the first autism-friendly town in the country. The town underwent strict accreditation process where 25 per cent of businesses, voluntary organisations, public services, schools and healthcare professionals were involved. Around 25 per cent of the town’s population was engaged in training to develop a three-year autism friendly town plan.
In this small town, 212 organisations, which included shops, cafes, sports clubs, police station and fire station underwent modification to become autism-friendly.
This example underlines the will needed from all stakeholder to take up the issue and make dedicated efforts to make possible modifications. In order to further do so, the United Nations celebrates December 3 as International disability day and the theme for 2018 is ‘Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’.
To stand up to this theme, India, in terms of infrastructure as well as establishing a secured differently-abled environment, has to wok very hard. But Indians have to work even harder to change their outlook and extend an inclusive environment of equality. As a society with immense diversity we have to take up this challenge, when the world can, why can’t we!