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Needed: An election manifesto for 80 million disabled citizens - My Take by Dr Ketna L Mehta

Ahead of the upcoming national election, Dr Ketna L Mehta, Founder-Trustee of Nina Foundation, that reaches out to people with spinal cord injuries, has an important message for India's disabled community in My Take.

Indians with disability have been ignored for too long.

We as a community of 80 million people demand that each of the parties standing for the forthcoming elections must mention in measurable terms, with specific timelines, what exactly they will do for the people with disabilities.

Taxes of all types are being imposed on us but they do not translate into a better quality of life. Government offices, schools, colleges, hospitals and public places do not provide disabled-friendly access. Almost each state doles out a paltry sum in the name of monthly pensions.

Do the ministers and officials holding high posts even know anything about disability and the struggle we and our family members and care givers go through to survive in our country?

Rehabilitation of the disabled is as good as non-existent.

I remember in 1997, two years after my paragliding accident and permanent, incurable spinal cord injury, I developed a pressure sore in my right ankle. I could not put on my socks or callipers and was home bound for four months as healing of a spinal cord injury is a slow process and the wound has to be exposed to air. Feeling intensely patriotic, I readily agreed when my friend Satish Kulkarni, assisted by his nephew, offered to carry me down the first floor flight of stairs so that I could visit the polling station in a school nearby. Imagine, with no sensation in my feet, a huge risk in itself, braving the stones, pebbles, dust and the hot footpath, I was carried down and driven in his car and walked barefoot to cast my vote. I felt very proud that I went that extra mile, risking my health to go for voting.

Since then, each year, ramp or no ramp, I have, with great hope always exercised my franchise, thanks to my supportive family. As an Indian with a physical disability I have been carried up and down the stairs in the past 23 years in a shamefully undignified manner almost everywhere. Because I wanted to move on with my life, experiencing as full a life as possible!

Sadly, for all my patriotism, the taxes that I pay regularly as an honest citizen and the pride of being an Indian, I have not seen much visible change over the years. For any little change that there has been for the disabled in and around me, it has been solely due to my own explanation, brainpower, time, resources and effort.

People call us inspiring and motivational, unaware that we and our families have to work twice as hard to exist and survive. Despite the optimistic outlook, disillusionment has set in. Actually no one cares about us.

Promises unmet

The people in the government entrusted to make our lives easier by providing us with the basic minimum infrastructure, technology and positive attitudes, seem to be busy with other pressing matters. Forever. Always. Enough is enough. We have been taken for a ride for too long. We are now exhausted in this long journey.

When one can make elections accessible by harnessing resources in such a short period pan India then show us a real positive change NOW.

I would propose that each constituency make their government buildings, schools, colleges, hospitals, public transport, washrooms and sports facilities disabled friendly before the elections. Prove to us that each of the political parties truly acknowledges and cares for our existence.

Each party's manifesto must mention 10 measurable points with finite timelines by a specific task force that they will execute in finite days, months. Each party and the individual standing for elections must mention a mobile number, email id and website where grievances by Indians with disability can be sent before the elections so that we can check the veracity of your trust. All pending petitions, appeals concerning the disabled must be cleared before these elections.

You want our vote.

We want our dignity.

This article was first published in Moneywise.

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