It was once said that the moral test of a Society lies in how it treats the sick, the needy and the handicapped. On 3rd December, the United Nations International Day for the Disabled Persons, let us as a society appraise ourselves, Have we really done enough for these people?
There are about 70 million disabled people in India. But the glaring indigestible fact is that only about 1% of these are employed. That amounts to more than 69 million unemployed disabled people in India. With the talk of making these people Self Sufficient by giving them jobs as financial empowerment provides security and generates confidence, we have largely failed. And the handicapped people are left abandoned, lonely and vulnerable with almost no physical security or emotional well being.
But can such people be actually considered disabled? Can Stephen Hawking, the great scientist, the author of award winning novels be considered physically or mentally disabled. Hawking is disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The illness has progressed over the years and he is now almost completely paralysed but yet he continues to help fellow scientists with his valuable inputs.
One strange but yet not well known fact was that Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf. A musician, a composer and arguably the creator of the best symphonies in the World had actually become deaf long before his death. But yet his musical genius outshone his disability. Just goes on to show what a man can achieve by pure grit and determination.
It’s believed that what you lack in one department, God makes up for it by blessing you in another. Such was the case with the protagonist of the award winning film Iqbal, where Shreyas Talpade played the role of a deaf and mute cricketer. Or the portrayal of Helen Killer by the brilliant Rani Mukherjee in Black. Proving that Happiness in life can be found no matter how much darkness it is enveloped in.
The World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems places India on an abysmal 112th position even behind our next door neighbors Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. For the disabled people in India, Life isn’t a Gift as they look at it. In Rural areas the awareness about their problems is really low and thus they are the most neglected. According to the National Sample Survey 2004, disability among people in rural areas is much higher than in urban areas: 1.85% as against 1.5% in urban areas.
As per the Government of India’s with Disabilities Act, 1995, a person with disability is a person suffering from not less than 40% of any disability as certified by a medical authority. The conditions included as disability are blindness, low-vision, hearing impairment, mental retardation, leprosy and mental illness. Autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities have also been listed as disabilities in the National Trust Act of 1999.
Even though disabled people constitute a significant 5 to 6 percentage of the population of India, their needs for meaningful employment remain unmet, in spite of the implementation of the `The People with Disabilities’ Act, which reserves 3% of all categories of jobs in the government sector for disabled persons But, we still have 99% of them being unemployed. The industries however, have a crucial role to play as they can generate vast employment opportunities for the really needy.
There are more than 3,000 special schools in India today. Of them, 900 are schools for the hearing impaired, 400 for children with visual impairment, 700 for locomotor disabilities, and 1,000 for the intellectually disabled. More than 50,000 children with disabilities are enrolled in the Integrated Education for Disabled Children, a government-sponsored programme but as is the case with the Indian Education system here too the dropout rate is very high.
The problems being faced by these people are immense but every adversity carries in itself seeds of an equivalent benefit. There are several NGO’s working towards ensuring that the disabled people do not feel left out in our Society. But, we as individuals in this society can do a lot to help them. We can atleast ensure that they have a dignified life and do not feel isolated or traumatized. What they need is not Sympathy but our Support not necessarily charity but a few cherishable moments. And then could we say that we have passed the test of being a caring and conscious society