Accessibility December 3, 2020
World Disability Day 2020 – Challenges & opportunities in making the world more inclusive for people with disabilities post Covid
People with disabilities are marginalised in the best of times. Post Covid this has only grown. While the pandemic has underlined, their challenges, it has thrown up opportunities as well. Experts say we must focus on the latter to build an inclusive world.
Let’s start with a story of hope.
Chandrakant Wankhede, a visually impaired person from rural Maharashtra used to sell toys on trains. The lockdown ended his source of income, leaving him without means to support his family.
When the central relief promised to people with disabilities did not reach him and other visually impaired residents of his village, Chandrakant mobilised support through Hamari Vaani, EnAble India’s rural social networking platform. After some struggle the villagers succeeded in getting their dues.
Chandrakant’s story does not speak for the larger disabled community in India which has faced huge hardship during this pandemic. Their plight makes it even more critical that we look at finally translating into action the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
Persons with disabilities were always vulnerable and thanks to Covid-19, they are even more so. Even in developed countries, they are not getting adequate priority. The UN theme for International Day for Persons with Disabilities 2020 is important and it’s good to see that people from the disabled community highlighting it. But in India, these voices are getting lost. We are in the third wave of lockdown and not enough priority is being given to the community. – Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People
Making disabled people count
How then does one ensure these voices get heard by those in a position of power? This is not going to be easy when everyone’s problems have only grown after Covid, points out George Abraham, Founder, Score Foundation that works to empower the visually impaired community in India.
“At the moment people are full of their own problems and apathy levels are high”, says Abraham. He chooses to focus on the opportunities that have opened. “There is scope for inclusion in areas like education and work from home. There is potential to redefine education for the blind. Technology can break down walls between blind and non-blind people, which Braille could not do as well”.
Akhil Paul, Director, Sense International (India) says the pandemic has helped highlight vulnerabilities of people with deafblindness. “Covid has given us the opportunity to bring this issue to the mainstream and we hope major organisations like UNICEF, Oxfam, CBM, etc take up this issue. We cannot talk of ‘leaving no one behind’ and exclude one major community. In India policies don’t talk about the deafblind and nor are they reflected in data like the Census”.
Leadership initiatives from community
For Shanti Raghavan, Founder, EnAble India, hope lies in the stories of leadership emerging from the disabled community.
“Take Chandrakant”, she says. “His leadership led to people coming forward from the community ensuring rations were delivered. We are also seeing parents come forward in a big way. For instance, we even sent mobility training videos to parents which never happened before”. The other big win, says Shanti, is that challenges of mental health are better understood. “All the inabilities that have surfaced because people are stuck at home will make it easier for us to get more empathy”.
Critical to building that inclusive world is collaboration, believes Arman. “States, the central government, and civil society organisations have to collaborate. Corporates have come forward in a big way but unless people with disabilities participate in decision-making, nothing will change”.
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