Rights and needs of our special citizens – Does anyone care?
I saw a young boy, no more than 10 or 12 years old, collecting plastic bags, jars and bottles in my neighborhood. When I asked him why he was doing this instead of studying, he responded that he was doing this to support his studies as his parents couldn’t afford to educate him. On top of this, the boy was using crutches to propel himself since he had lost the use of both his legs to polio. This set me thinking as to how many of us are aware of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Leave that aside. How many of us are aware that millions of Indians come under the category of being classified as “Differently Abled” or “Persons with Special Needs?” Better yet, how many of us know the meaning of these terms? Ahhh. Raised hands. Right. Very few of us even bother. I mean, why should WE bother about such things when we personally don’t know anyone like that, right?
WRONG. First of all, not all Differently Abled people were born with special needs; some of them acquire these needs as a result of accidents and other unexpected twists of fate. Moral of the story: it could happen to anyone at anytime. Second, those who were born with congenital defects which made them Differently Abled DID NOT ask to be born that way. Again, it was a twist of fate. Differently Abled people are full-fledged citizens of this great nation and hence are entitled to all the fundamental rights that a “normal” citizen is.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection and Full Participation) Act came into force in 1995. There are several provisions in the Act to make the lives of Differently Abled people more livable, but enactment is not properly monitored and many of its provisions remain on paper only. All public buildings in the country are supposed to ensure a barrier-free environment. How many of us even know the meaning of the term “barrier-free” in the context of persons with special needs? C’mon Athenas, be honest with me. That’s right. Not many. I shall save that discussion for another day, but right now, please think about this. So much delay and red-tape is involved in providing ramps, voice-controlled elevators and wheelchair-friendly public washrooms. And what about making provisions in public transport systems to make them easily accessible for Differently Abled passengers? Providing concessions on ticket fare is not enough; unless the facilities are accessible to the Specially Abled segment, mere monetary concessions are not going to suffice.
The field of education is another Pandora’s Box as far as Specially Abled kids are concerned. Agreed, kids whose hearing and speech are impaired in some way and those suffering from other conditions such as Rett’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome and autism need special care and thus are better off in a special school which would be able to cater for their needs better. But honestly speaking, how many of these special schools are being run by empathic individuals who understand the kids’ needs and handle them with proper care? There are many individuals and organizations which genuinely care for special children in an environment which is conducive for their growth and development, but there are also many who only view this segment as a potential to fill their pockets. Generous donations intended for the care of special children go into the pockets of unscrupulous “do-gooders.” Another point to ponder, Athenas.
Now, coming to the crux of the matter; prejudice. The way society (which comprises of you and me) views Specially Abled people leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. Derogatory terms are used to refer to people with physical and mental deformities. Why? What if it was a member of your own family? Would you still use such language to describe them? And why this automatic assumption that they are a burden to society? And why, oh why, is that when we feel any emotion at all for the Specially Abled community, it is always pity? Why can’t we admire them for surviving enormous odds and still managing to smile at the world?
What would it take to change our outlook?