A progressive society is one where all citizens irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, gender or economic condition, live together in peace and harmony. A certain portion of society comprises of the disabled or differently abled persons, who are supposed to enjoy the same rights and facilities as available to all other citizens. But do they enjoy equal facility and experience in society? Can we say with confidence that we are a caring society that extends an equal opportunity to the differently abled to live and work, as available to regular citizens? The harsh answer is no.
Daily problems faced
This is true in most cases in Haryana, where the differently abled have to face several challenges, in their day-to-day existence. Unfortunately, the authorities in charge right from independence onwards, did not factor in the needs of the differently abled, therefore access to basic facilities was not factored in when setting up building laws, transportation laws, road laws, education laws, etc. This has resulted in several challenges that these differently abled persons have to face on a daily basis.
The challenges are many. The buses, autos, trains, stations, none are designed to be disabled friendly. If a physically challenged person has to visit a government office, the office is not designed to be disabled-friendly. There are no easy access points provided, no ramps available and in many cases they simply have to be at the mercy of people around to carry them inside. Once inside, a basic need such as visiting a toilet is a major task to overcome, as the toilets have not been designed for them either.
A physically challenged person has the will to survive and is willing to make a fight for daily existence but needs to be treated with dignity. The sheer lack of facilities for them takes away their dignity and forces them to undergo the humiliation of waiting for someone's pity or generosity, to help them access even basic facilities like toilet and drinking water.
Understanding the challenges
The challenge for society is understanding that there are different levels of disability in persons. There are persons who are challenged visually, in hearing, in speech, in movement, mental retardation, mental illness, multiple disability and other forms of challenge. Their needs are all different but it is possible to incorporate some basic needs to build those into our laws and planning.
As per the Census of India Survey 2011, Haryana has 5,46,374 differently abled persons, of which 3,15,533 are males and 2,30,841 are females. Of these, 1,16,026 persons were those who had movement disability and this was the largest of all disabilities. The next largest segment were those with hearing disabilities and there are 1,15,527 persons. The Census Survey has provided us with detailed breakdown of persons with different disabilities and this should have resulted in better response from the state government in preparing support programs and policies. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
The problem is not so much in the programs and policies, as much as in the implementation level. Unfortunately, the differently challenged persons in Haryana have to face an uncaring and insensitive society that has little time to be more responsive towards the challenged.
Any challenged person will tell you how difficult it is to go through an uncaring bureaucratic system to avail benefits provided by the government. Just to get one letter or permit issued, a person has to make several visits to the respective government departments. After enduring the physical task of reaching the office, he or she is made to wait endlessly for an appointment and when the appointment actually happens, the tone of the officer-in-charge is one where it seems he is doing a favour to the poor hapless person. The physically challenged person has no option but to endure this only to be told that the file has moved to the next person.
Once again the same routine takes place. It takes a lot of physical effort, patience and humiliation, before these persons get their work done. What adds salt to the wounds is the fact that in many cases, these officials are corrupt and demand bribes for offering simple services.
There are cases reported of ill treatment, including violence, on the disabled, in schools set up for them. A visit to these schools will reveal the appalling conditions in which they are made to live. At every stage, they are made to feel unwanted and any service provided to them is made to look like a favour. This is the life of a differently abled person in Haryana. The question is, as a society, what are we doing about this? What makes a society so hard and uncaring where a person stoops to these levels in serving the disabled?
Naya Haryana vison for the differently abled
Our approach to addressing the needs of the differently abled persons starts from educating the society and sensitising them to the importance of including and integrating these persons as part of mainstream life. This can be done by ensuring that schools accept many of these children into their system and work towards teaching all normal students on how to accept and deal with them as part of their usual daily activity. The best sensitisation is done at the school level where children are most open to accepting newer ideas.
This must be accompanied by community meetings of elders, men, women and youth, at various levels, and include them in discussing how to include the disabled into mainstream society. It is important for the people to discuss the issue and come out with solutions that may then be implemented in their local area. An inclusive approach to the problem has a greater chance of being accepted by people than a simple diktat from the government. Unless society understands the challenges faced by these people they will never be able to accept them as their own.
On the government side, we are clear that we have to take several steps to ensure that the following become part of laws that must be complied with:
All buildings, commercial, residential, retail, academic and public institutions, must be made disabled friendly. This means that every building will have to cater to easy access by way of special parking areas, ramp access to all floors, special lifts to cater to wheel chairs, specially designed toilets etc. At all places, signages must include Braille (this is a language that the blind use to read with their finger touch). All public buildings must have a few wheelchairs available, at all times.
Schools must admit children with disabilities so that regular children are sensitised to their needs.
Special Cell be set up to address complaints of harassment or maltreatment of differently abled persons, for immediate addressal of their problems.
Allocate a job quota to employ these persons in government jobs and provide them with full facilities available to regular staff.
Allow additional paid leave for medical reasons, on a case to case basis.
Introduce special insurance schemes to address their special needs.
Additional tax exemptions and subsidies on all accessories like, wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetics (artificial limbs), medical beds, etc.
Special low cost finance for entrepreneurs that wish to be self-employed. These loan applications must be cleared on priority.
Haryana has approximately 5,46,374 differently abled persons and it should not be a difficult task for us to create a variety of welfare and subsidised programs for them, to make their life easier and welcome in society. There is so much that a government can do and the real acceptance has to come from society, therefore, let us all join together in extending our full encouragement and support to them and welcome them into mainstream life in Naya Haryana.