We live in a country that professes unity in diversity. This coinage means that irrespective of the difference in the background one comes from, irrespective of the varying abilities, irrespective of the divergent ideas and ideologies, these multifarious thoughts, beliefs and aptitudes are employed in the common mission of living in harmony, contributing one's potential. However, the reality is that this is an idealistic situation and almost a myth. There is discriminatory and judgemental impression and approach towards those who are different from what is deemed "normal". Among the "different from normal" people of India are the people with disability, who believe they are getting a raw deal in life from the society of fellow citizens and the government. And they may not be far from the truth.
According to the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, the Government of India recognises seven disabilities – low vision, visual impairment, hearing impairment, locomotor disability/cerebral palsy, mental retardation, multiple disabilities and mental illness (psycho social disabilities). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRD) has laid down some principles defining the rights of the people with disability and these also include "Respect for difference, and acceptance of persons with disabilities, as part of human diversity and humanity", and "equality of opportunity". Theoretically, equal opportunities and facilities seem to be in place for them in India. However, in reality, it is a different story of discrimination and insensitivity.
There are two ways of supporting people who may be disadvantaged in society:
- · One way is to extend concessions and compromises to them so that they continue to perform and live within their limitations.
- · The other way is to extend the support system that will bring them UP from their disadvantageous position to the mainstream of "normal" life in the society.
Supporting them into the mainstream is the least we should do as a responsible and sensitive society and nation. For example, one can be patient with them when they cross the road, just as one should, with senior citizens, helping them along, if necessary. One should provide the facilities for their easy mobility on the pavements and roads, into vehicles and into buildings. One should provide aids (to cope with the disability) like Braille, talking computers, hearing aids and sign languages, mobility aids and suitable jobs for those with locomotor disability.
We know of many "normal" working men and women who seek special favours of work postings near home, or job transfers to preferred centres, or low-risk portfolio at work for personal convenience. We witness the country's politicians enjoying special privileges such as priority service, at public places as airports and roadways. Yet, much ado is made about providing the legitimate facilities to the people with disabilities.
What these fellow citizens are asking for is an environment that enables them to perform and live as independently as possible, in a normal society. In such a facilitated environment, the differently-abled have already proved that they could compare and compete well with the normal people. In the final picture, it is the attitude that matters. To substantiate this point is the true story of Johnny the Bagger, who was stricken by the Down Syndrome (a congenital disorder causing intellectual impairment). Johnny worked in a supermarket, bagging (putting into bags) the groceries for the customer after the billing. Johnny was selected, along with the other employees of the supermarket, to listen to the motivational speaker, Barbara Glanz.
A month after the training session, the supermarket noticed a positive change in the inflow of customers in the supermarket and their upbeat attitude. The manager of the supermarket learnt that this change was brought about by Johnny who wanted to make a difference in his work place, motivated by Barbara Glanz's talk. He had thought out an idea of his own, and decided to add a "thought for the day" in a printout slip, put into the grocery bag of each customer every day. This gesture won the customers' appreciation. The gesture soon had a demonstration effect and motivated the other employees to implement little gestures in their own little ways to make a difference in the quality of their service to their customers. This transformed into an upbeat, positive and cheerful work culture in the supermarket and it also increased the sales in the store. All this happened because a Down Syndrome-affected worker had the right attitude and supportive environment to be recognised as a work force with capabilities.
In the case of our own society, the attitude that needs to change is that of the "normal" people towards those with disabilities. We need to recognise them as "part of human diversity and humanity" and support them into the mainstream to enable them to live and achieve along with the others, and not be confined in an exclusive circle of their own.
(Link to the video narrating the story of Johnny, the Bagger)