The Ability Debate

Parimal Lokhande


Start with asking you a question: Do we really understand the problems of the disabled? The shameful yet the most correct answer is no. In our country, where vote-bank politics is rampant, almost all minority groups have managed a variety of sops for themselves. The disabled, however, have remained a hidden minority deprived of the basic needs, which even the most disadvantaged take for granted. Our leaders are painfully ignorant that the disabled barely enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution,may be they assume that this 5 percent of the 1 billion does not exist et-all.Why should they exist, they do not vote the pot bellied politicians to power right?

To illustrate, let us consider just three fundamentals rights: right to education, right to employment and right to full social living. Do the disabled have free access to schools and universities? No answers needed. Now tell me, How many principals of “leading” schools will be willing to admit a 10-year-old on a wheel chair? Nine out of ten would probably suggest that such a child should take tuition at home. Thus,when the foundation itself is weakened, the chances of future employment are minimized anyway. That’s, simple logic. Let us be honest. When you think of employment for the disabled, what are the jobs that come to your mind? Do you visualize a disabled person behind a CEO’s desk in multinational company,as a radio jockey at a leading station or even as a professor at a prestigious university? Most unlikely. You will probably think of a peon, a sitting job mechanic or a petty shop owner. The reality is close to this!!!!!

The bias against the disabled is strongly embedded in our social psyche, making it all the more difficult for the person to equip himself to live normally; especially so in India, where a person’s physical handicap is often equated with the sins he or his forefathers may have committed. A disabled person is usually haunted by references to his previous birth at home,among relatives, at places of work and even at the “temples of learning”. Where education and employment remain a distant dream, to think of normal social living appears comical. People ‘may’ grant a disabled person some serious attention when he talks of schooling or employment but talk of his dating,marriage, going to a disco or for a walk(wheel) down the aisle; and it has most in giggles. They are the “unnecessary things” that can be banished from the lives of the special.

Broadly speaking, there exist two schools of thought in respect of settings in which education may be imparted to children with disabilities.Those favoring a special school system argue that it is only in special settings that children with disabilities can get quality education, adequate attention and all the required facilities; and that too in an appropriate atmosphere with a level playing field and without feeling excluded in the crowd of non-disabled children. Such settings ensure that the children with disabilities are able to keep pace with the class unlike in the so-called integrated/inclusive settings.

Contrary to the above view, the exponents of integrated/inclusive settings attack the special school system vehemently on the ground that such a system tends to ghetto-ise children with disabilities. Strongly favoring the idea of working towards creating an inclusive, barrier-free, and rights-based society, they assert that a vast majority of children with disabilities can be accommodated within the regular school settings, and hence, in an inclusive environment, with some adaptations. In any event, a child with a disability is essentially and primarily a child first and a child with a disability only next. Besides, they argue that the cost of setting up special schools is highly prohibitive.

In the first place, it is critical to recognize that promoting inclusion in all spheres of life is non-negotiable. Therefore, inclusion in education, in order to be effective and meaningful, must happen at all levels of the entire education process-viz., at the curriculum development level, at the teaching learning level, at the infrastructure development level, and at the school management level, at the examination and evaluation etc. Piecemeal inclusion is no inclusion. It has got to be all-pervasive.

Although inclusion is primarily a goal, to my humble way of thinking, it is also a process. All the progressive international instruments including the UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities place an all-out emphasis on participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life; and no such participation is possible without inclusion. Inclusion is a precondition to participation.

To my mind, inclusion must be an all-pervasive phenomenon. However, given the prevailing realities, the so-called special schools will continue to play an important role for a long time to come. In my view, these schools can and should promote inclusion. Besides, our emphasis must be on imparting quality education to children with disabilities in an appropriate environment.Let us utilize the special schools in promoting inclusion rather than making such schools a casualty in the name of inclusion. Thus, inclusion should be understood and defined in proper perspective.

The bottom-line is that disability has never been a Rights issue for anyone in India. Whatever has been granted to the disabled has been as through doling out alms. And, services made available to the handicapped sporadically have been subject to the “mercy” of the existing political and the bureaucratic machinery from time to time. This has led to irregular and indifferent services being provided as a token of charity rather than as a matter of right.

Recently, how could I forget to quote this, certain visually handicapped people were successful in ‘convincing’ the Supreme Court that the sightless should be allowed to take the examinations for the civil services. It is another matter that they have still not been able to convince the ministry for petroleum and natural gas that sightless persons can successfully run gas agencies. The ministry’s logic is that the “danger would be too great”.It is sheer apathy towards the problems of the disabled that it elicits such ridiculous, horrible and unjustified responses from the keepers of our society.This indifference is directly related to the fact that the disabled have been unable to forge a powerful coalition. Why, I refer to recent examples from history- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did his bit for people who now dream of leading this country(Mayawati is almost there),Ganghiji led his charge for the harijans and more recently the Women’s Bill is all ready to play its legitimate in bringing the fairer sex, if not more, but at least at par with the men.

At least, not yet.Without a visible leadership, the Indian disability movement will continue to remain unnoticed. It is time the disabled defined their identity and marked their presence. If necessary, they be ready to parade instead of being closeted.


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