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World Disability Day is today - Why it Matters

December 4, 2017

We all know the statistics.

Over a billion people, that's nearly 15% of the world's population, are disabled. About 80% of them live in the developing world. In India, the disabled population is officially estimated to be nearly 21 million, although various policy papers place the figure at almost double of that. Stigma and the lack of comfort around disability mean that the reported cases of disability in India are far lower.

Disability low on the priority list

Given the scale, one would imagine that the challenge of inclusion would demand, and get, urgent government action. But the reality is that disability is far from embedded in our daily consciousness in the way that issues related to gender inequality or religion are.

Even basic amenities like trains, buses, shops, banks, ATMs, airports, schools, colleges, toilets, hospitals, etc etc..the list is endless..remain impossible to access for the disabled. The quest to turn our cities into a Shanghai or Manhattan remains confined to shiny malls and airports, while the needs of a large section of a capable section of our population are totally sidelined. Despite the Accessible India campaign new buildings continue to come up without basic accessibility measures in place.

World Disability Day 2017

In this context, the theme of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities of 2017, which is 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all', is critical. Because it reminds us that we need to come together as a people, as a society to push for empowerment and opportunities for the disabled population. This means investing in jobs, education, health and social inclusion. Not just build a few ramps and wheelchairs as mere tokenism. Empowerment so they have an equal shot at opportunities, and are ready to lead independent lives, in every sense.

Where India stands today

India has made some progress in the last few years. The scope of the Disabilities Act has been widened. There is greater awareness of the crippling effects of mental health, the need to address learning disorders and age-related issues. There is hope that people with disabilities will get access to basic public utilities in the evolving 'Smart Cities' in India.

The World Disability Day gives us an opportunity to support everyone with disabilities, visible and invisible. Let us stop looking at disability as a rare condition. Instead we should see it as a part of our diversity and plan for the needs of everyone, including the disabled.

Today, let us pledge to make that happen.

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