Feature

Volume 7 Issue 1 - January 01, 2010

“The year that was…”

Another year has gone by! And as we fret over changing the calendar on the wall and getting the perfect bunch of cards, we tried our best to brush aside that nagging voice, which was ruing over what we got and what we did not. But finally, it had its way. Dorodi Sharma and Allister Mark Syiemlieh of D.N.I.S. bring you what was a hit and what was a miss for the Indian disability sector in 2009.

It has been fourteen long years since the Disability Act was passed and we are still fighting for our basic rights. The outgoing year may be another statistic, another number but yes, it did have its fair share of hopes and heartbreaks and elations. The struggle of an average disabled citizen of the country still revolves around access, education, employment and health. Two years since India ratified U.N.C.R.P.D. and the XIth Five Year Plan was unveiled, we still have a long, long way to go. Access is still dismal, education is still not inclusive, employment is as good as nought and the less said about health the better.

D.N.I.S. spoke to a few disabled rights activists, about the hits and misses of 2009 and how they would rate 2009 on a scale of 1 to 10.

The overall average rating was 4.9. Though not so cheerful, a few did have positive things to say about 2009.

Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust gave 2009 a 7 on 10. Her reasons being a better understanding of U.N.C.R.P.D., amendments to Right to Education Act and the Chandigarh case (where the Supreme Court upheld the right to motherhood of a mentally retarded girl).

Jayshree Raveendran, Executive Director, Ability Foundation rated 2009 as a 6. “2009 heard the voice of the disability sector. We made news this year, some encouraging and some discouraging, but we are no longer unnoticed or disregarded,” she said.

Rating the year 2009 at an all time high of 9, General Ian Cardozo, Chairperson, Rehabilitation Council of India (R.C.I.) said, “By India’s ratification, we have been able to modify our courses and bring them in line with U.N.C.R.P.D. directives.”

2009 has also had its downside! And these activists will tell you why?

“India signed and ratified U.N.C.R.P.D. and then forgot about it, amendments to various laws continue to remain in stand by mode,” Rama Chari, Director, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre said.

“There has been a continued discrimination by the Transport Ministries, be it Railways, Airways or Roadways,” said Rajiv Rajan, Project Coordinator, Vidya Sagar.

On a more dismal note, Javed Ahmad Tak, Honorary Chairman, Humanity Welfare Organization, defined the outgoing year as a “disgusting year for the disability sector” and rated it a poor 1!

The Right to Education Act jolted the disability sector to look at an unpleasant reality. The Act, which sought to make primary education a fundamental right, excluded millions of disabled children. And following a vehement protest and finally an intervention by the Prime Minister, the concerns of the sector are now being included through an amendment. This was no doubt a hit for education of disabled children.

A sad miss, however, was that nearly 1000 seats in Delhi University went vacant. But the biggest thumbs down would have to be the fact that online C.A.T. exam held by I.I.M. Ahmedabad was not W.C.A.G. 2.0 compliant.

Although disability becoming a part of the Right to Education Act was a positive development, Meenu Bhambhani, Global Head, C.S.R., Mphasis said, “Inclusive education remains a dream. Only 0.21 percent of disabled students appear for C.B.S.E. exams every year!!”

“Our education system does not address the needs of print impaired persons adequately,” said Sachin Malhan of Inclusive Planet.

“And although the Government has sanctioned funds for this, we are still a long way from inclusive education,” he added.

The average rating that Education got was 4.3.

In 2008, then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, had grandly announced an Incentive Scheme for the private sector for employing disabled people. The scheme was to generate 1,00,000 jobs per annum! But a year and a half later, only 261 jobs have been generated.

Arman Ali, Executive Director, Shishu Sarothi testified to this fact stating that, “There has been no policy change for the private sector employers and the incentive scheme has made NO impact.”

But, there are reasons to cheer. Private sector companies like I.B.M., Wipro, Mphasis, etc. are becoming equal opportunity employers with defined policies for disabled employees. According to Victor Cordeiro, “There has been an increased sensitivity in the corporate sector.”

Employment got a 3.8 rating from the sector.

India is building double the infrastructure that it had built in the last 50 years. But sadly, access, by and large, remains dismal – even with new constructions. A lot of swanky malls, theatres, etc. are accessible to a certain degree. But the biggest disappointments were the new and so called state of the art airports.

Malhan felt that access is a subject on which too much has been said and too little done. “Urban infrastructure is such a public policy failure that it is hopeless to expect accessibility to emerge as a strong force immediately,” he added.

For Ali, “Access is still a fantasy.”

“Though some buildings look at provision of ramps, the concept of Universal Design has been completely ignored,” said Rajan.

However, there were a few high points. N.C.P.E.D.P. and AccessAbility came out with the proposed revisions to the Access Guidelines of the National Building Code (N.B.C.) which the Bureau of Indian Standards is considering seriously and now, after much lobbying, so is the Ministry of Urban Development. World class disabled friendly railway stations are on the anvil. But a lot needs to be done to convert the ‘non-believers’ in the nodal Ministry who still think that access is not legally binding.

2009 was also probably the year that India woke up to Web Accessibility. The Ministry of Information Technology came out with the revised Web Access Guidelines making it obligatory for websites in public domain to be W.C.A.G. 2.0 compliant. But the biggest miss - the websites of the nodal ministry for disability, Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment and its affiliated national institutes are yet to follow this!

Access overall, got a rating of 3.8 from the disability sector.

62 years after Independence, only 10 percent of the disabled population has access to disability certificates. The scenario did not get any better in 2009. But yes, there were a few silver linings. The Health Ministry came out with a set of guidelines seeking to make the process of issuing disability certificates easier. Disability certificates would be issued within 15 days of application was the claim. But the thumbsdown was that these guidelines are yet to be adopted as the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment continue to play tug of war.

“No significant change in health has been effected,” says Arun Rao, Executive Director, The Deafway Foundation.

“Health insurance remains discriminatory with people being penalized for having or acquiring a disability,” says Bhambhani. J.P. Gadkari, President, Parivaar, lamented, “Only intellectually disabled persons have benefited from the health insurance scheme, Niramaya. Other disabilities remain outside its purview.”

Health got a 4 from the disability sector.

When disabled people in urban areas face such an uphill climb for their basic rights, one can very well imagine the status in rural India. Despite India’s flagship rural employment scheme, N.R.E.G.A., there is a huge discrepancy between the number of disabled people who register under N.R.E.G.A. and the actual number of people who get employed. The only highlight was Minister for Rural Development, Dr. C.P. Joshi’s assurance that the Act would be amended to consider disabled people as separate households.

Cordeiro felt the year had a positive development. “Strong and vibrant movements have emerged through sustained lobbying by Viklang Manchs in ten States, successful campaign for accessing entitlements through voluntary actions,” he explained.

Rural India got an average rating of just 2.6.

A lot of other issues also made it to our list of hits and misses. Comprehensive social security for disabled people still being a far cry and independent living receiving a blow with the Government of India denying hearing impaired people their right to drive were the notable misses. However a major hit was the fact that right to participate in public life got a shot in the arm with General Elections becoming more or less accessible.

The major development of 2009 was the Ministry’s decision to amend the Disability Act of 1995. Although, the sector is demanding a new law reflecting the letter and spirit of U.N.C.R.P.D., the Ministry is all for an amendment. Well, as long as all the articles of U.N.C.R.P.D. are incorporated, call it by any name – Amendment or a New Disability Act, the purpose is served. However, the year saw more misses than hits, something that the Indian disability sector would love to change.

If on one hand we had a Supreme Court judgement upholding the right to motherhood of a mentally retarded woman, we also had a national disgrace at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (I.W.A.S.) 2009 in Bengaluru. If we had an incentive scheme that never took off, we also had a Maniram Sharma, India’s first hearing impaired I.A.S. officer. If we had non-functional policies and a divided sector, we also saw a young, dedicated leadership in the Indian disability sector emerge from the shadows of the handful of veterans, who clearly have served their time.

Yes, we may have had lesser hits than misses in 2009, but the hope of a better and brighter 2010 motivates us to move on. If there is no distance greater than yesterday, there is also no hope stronger than a young generation that believes and has faith. Faith in themselves, faith in their resolve and most essentially, faith in a movement that is strongly on its way from being ‘invisible’ to being phenomenal. And this certainly gets a 10 on 10.

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