Since the past few weeks I have been reading a lot on disabilities and how Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) form the world’s largest unheard minority. Being seen as the cursed ones, or outcomes of their evil past, PwDs have come a long way from there to be looked at as a complete human being. But is this actually true? Though India has one of the most progressive laws to protect the rights of PwDs, how many of us have seen a PwD working with us in our office, or taking a further step back, how many of us have had PwDs studying at the same educational institutes where we had studied? Doesn’t it ring a bell? Though laws protect them to be seen equal, but the society thinks unlikely, keeping them astray from the mainstream society.
Looking at the past trends, only a few mainstream schools in India have been fully accessible. Moreover, accessibility comes at a higher cost, forcing the disabled to think over whether this world wants them to pay more, to obtain the same knowledge. And even if they manage to pay extra, will they get a dignified livelihood owing to the incapable perspective attached to the disabled?
On learning that the progressive policy level interventions by the government were not translating into the real empowerment, some organizations have taken charge on empowering PwDs to help them live a life of dignity in the society. One such organization which I feel is doing wonderful work towards this goal is Samarthanam, Bangalore. Their collaborations with various schools across the country, in educating them about disabilities, accessibility and inclusiveness, they have mainstreamed many young minds, who else would have strayed away from a progressive life. Those who cannot afford getting admission to such schools, have special schools to go to. Equipped with the latest state of the art assistive technologies like screen reading software and braille printers for the visually challenged, fully accessible campus, inclusion into sports, arts and culture, these schools have been giving good quality education with all the other extra-curricular activities as mainstream schools. Following good education, they have the Livelihood Resource Centres (LRCs), to equip PwDs to get a few additional skills that’ll help them work better in the professional world. Following training these LRCs even have a dedicated Placement cell to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to the trainees.
The biggest gap which I feel exists and Samarthanam tries to fill is inclusion of the disabled into sports and arts and culture. The recent Blind Cricket World Cup organized by them has given hope to many that even without eyesight, one can play sports. The Visually Impaired cricketers, who would never even have dreamt of travelling the world and being cheered by their fans would have got the shock of their life when they won the Blind Cricket World Cup in 2012 and then again in 2016 for India.
These stories of inspirations are what drives the PwDs to break the shackles and come forward to be a part of the mainstream society. With more such organizations and innovative initiatives coming up, I feel one day PwDs would be looked as enablers, as leaders, with their contributions valued equally as any other person on the planet.
– Article written by: Jerrin Y. Thomas, Associate Consultant, 4th Wheel.