Close your eyes for a moment, how does it feel? It only feels normal because you know that you can always open them again, but what if you could never see this beautiful world again and were stuck in darkness? What if you could never walk on your two feet or enjoy soulful music again? Life with disabilities can be frustrating. Think about how painful it would be to live with other disabilities as well, yet these extremely delightful people overcome their difficulties and strive to inspire us.
Disabled vs. Differently-Abled
The first thing that comes to mind when labelling someone as 'disabled' is the action itself. People aren't and shouldn't be labelled as anything, least of all disabled. When someone is diagnosed with a condition (like autism), they aren't autistic, they HAVE autism. Who they are as a person is not impacted by a medical condition and it surely doesn't contribute to their identity. While the labelling aspect is important to some, it isn't to most others.
The term disabled has not been favoured in recent times with several alternatives cropping up. One of these is seeing more favour than others - 'differently-abled'. This term is inclusive and offers an equal platform to those who fall under it.
What does it mean to be differently-abled?
People with mental or physical conditions are differently-abled because they possess a unique set of abilities and perspectives. Everybody has the ability and everybody matters, it's all about acknowledging it. 'Differently-abled' doesn't hide the fact that your loved one has been diagnosed with a condition, but continues to empower them despite it. Oftentimes, differently-abled people see what we can't, hear what we can't, and think about what we can't. This makes their ability different - not inferior, not superior - just different.
The term differently-abled recognises talent and value in everybody and treats them equally.
While mental conditions like autism can affect certain everyday functions, they need not stop them from enjoying a fulfilling, enriched and loved life. Many different people are known to flourish and rejoice in life with the right opportunity, support, and love.
Every year 2.68 crore voices go unheard. These differently-abled people are people with physical or mental incapacities.
They are one of the excluded sections of the society and are vulnerable because of the many barriers they face: attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world. They face innumerable complications in our country may it be public transport-related problems, lack of appropriate infrastructure, being dependent on family members, difficulty in receiving education, or even difficulty in obtaining jobs. Disabled people sometimes have difficulty doing things that others may take for granted, such as climbing stairs or using some household appliances, etc. However, the greatest challenge that differently-abled people have had to face has been society’s misconception that they are the“breed apart” and so are often ignored.
Disabled people are 100% citizens and are responsible taxpayers, however not much of the government’s efforts in introducing acts like the Right Of Persons with Disabilities Act and the Deen Dayal disabled rehabilitation scheme have given good results, mainly due to the lack of proper implementation and execution. This can be observed by the huge amount of illiteracy, especially in rural areas among disabled people. Of the total disabled population in urban areas, nearly 67% are literate out of which only 15% are graduates. Of the total disabled population in rural areas, nearly 49% are literate out of which only 5% are graduates. This happens primarily because some schools don’t let them get enrolled, and at times parents are not aware of or cannot afford special schools for their kids.
This can be observed in the tables below:
Disabled people do not receive jobs mainly for two reasons either they're not educated enough or because the employer feels that they wouldn’t perform efficiently. Due to this, they remain dependent on their family members and face hindrances in earning enough. Most of them also believe that their inability to financially support their family is a major setback. All this also affects the person internally as they lose their confidence and become insecure. At an all India level, only 36% of the total disabled persons are employed. Among the male disabled persons, 47% are working and among the female disabled, only 23% are working. This can be observed in the table below:
Disabled people often undergo extensive impediments in finding their soul mate as most of the time they are dependent on their families and taking care of them carries responsibility. At times they are diffident and reticent and find it tough to open up to others. This can be observed through the table below:
I believe disabled people are beautiful and brave who overcome their difficulties and strive to inspire others. For their betterment, apart from proper implementation and execution of existing schemes, the government should take some steps such as increasing the amount of financial assistance and scholarships, creating awareness about various welfare schemes through television, radio, and newspapers, providing appropriate means to make traveling comfortable for them and providing suitable self-employment opportunities. The Government should also ensure that every child with a disability has access to free education in an appropriate environment until he/she attains 18 years of age. The government should take strict action against those who disrespect and physically or mentally harm disabled people and see that no discrimination takes place.
It comes down to us responsible citizens to support disabled people and apprehend that society’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as the physical limitations that flow from actual impairments and that it’s not their DISABILITY, but their ABILITY that counts.
Discrimination in Healthcare
When the priority of the entire health system is attending to people affected by COVID-19, other health conditions face neglect. Most of those who are differently-abled have some health-related issues.
With hospitals not entertaining other cases, this is a great risk for them. The health system was never accessible in terms of physical access and attitudes. This situation has worsened for the differently-abled.
There is a fear of discrimination against the differently-abled when there is a scarcity of beds, ventilators, etc. Their lives may be considered disposable. This has happened in the United States and Italy.
Women with disabilities are the worst-affected. Most of them even otherwise suffer a ‘locked-down’ situation with very little opportunity to go out. Apart from other issues, they are subject to increased violence at home. They will find it even more difficult to seek help during a lockdown.
Another issue that usually goes unnoticed is the unavailability of information in accessible formats. This, despite numerous methods employed to provide information to people on COVID-19 related issues.
For people with visual impairment, information needs to be in Braille or audio, while for people with hearing impairment, it needs to be in sign language, etc. This does not get recognized.
While addressing the concerns of the disabled population, we need to bear in mind that 69.49 percent of them are in rural areas. There are around 2 million families in the country that have more than one person with a disability in their house.
In such a situation, an earning family member has to give up work to take over as a caregiver.
This leads to a further squeeze in the family income, where the overwhelming majority come from poor economic backgrounds. Disability also entails extra spending on aids and equipment, accessible transport, medicines, etc. Poverty contributes to disability, while disability accentuates poverty further.
Considered non-productive, around 64 percent of the differently-abled population who are of working age are unemployed. Meagre opportunities in the government / public sector where reservations exist have seen a drastic fall in the last three decades because of policies of liberalization and privatization.
There is negligible employment in the private sector. Many are engaged in hawking / vending on trains, bus stops, or doing odd jobs in the informal sector. With promised aid and rations failing to reach large sections, they are left at the mercy of civil society organizations. It will not be long before starvation takes over.
Even the reach of social protection in the form of pensions is far from wanting. The Indira Gandhi Disability Pension of a miserly Rs 300 is given to a mere 1,021,906 people, around 7.6 percent of the differently-abled population in the working age.
The ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will reach only one million-odd people. That this is a cruel joke, is underlined by the fact that that this remittance is spread over three months, averaging Rs 333.33 per month.
How can you help?
If you personally know someone with mental or physical conditions, the best way you can help is to provide them unconditional love, support, and patience. Get in touch with experts to understand the conditions and how they can affect their life. Knowledge is the best way to help those around you. You can also help by spreading the word and sensitising people on the matters of mental conditions. Alternatively, you can also help substantially by volunteering as an individual or a group with NGOs making the lives of the differently-abled easier and happier.
Several non-profit groups in your area are relentlessly working to facilitate a better life for the differently-abled and you can contribute your time, money, or labor. Even the smallest donations or a few hours every week can improve hundreds of lives around you. Take action.
"Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities."