A democratic country is based on the principle of equality where everyone whether men or women, able or disabled, child or adult all deserve same human rights. The Constitution of India characterizes India as a welfare State where inequalities must be minimized. Can Stephen Hawking, the great scientist, the author of award winning novels be considered physically or mentally disabled? Hawking is disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The illness has progressed over the years and he is now almost completely paralyzed yet he continues to help fellow scientists with his valuable inputs. Ludwig van Beethoven musician, composer and un- arguably the creator of the best symphonies in the world, he had become deaf long before his death. Yet his musical genius outshone his disability – just goes to show what one can achieve through sheer grit and determination.
The Technical Advisory Committee of the 2001 census expressed apprehension about inclusion of disability related questions in the 2001 census – Comparability of Census data with other surveys, including the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), which would create confusion ,Sensitivity is major constraint , Census Enumerators are technically unqualified to measure the extent/degree of disability , Difficulty in evolving simple and comprehensible definition of disability Difficulty in making respondent fully conversant about the nuances of the concept of disability , Attitude of the public to withhold such information as certain types of disabilities carry social stigma , Difficulty in distinguishing total disability with partial disability, Poor health system. The World Health Organization ranks India’s health system an abysmal 112, behind even Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, our neighbours next door.
The Declaration of the Rights of the Disabled Persons (General Assembly Resolution 3447 (XXX)) of 9th Dec 1975 U.N High Commission for Human Rights states that: “Disabled persons have the inherent right to respect for their human dignity. Disabled persons, whatever their origin, nature of seriousness of their disabilities has the same fundamental rights as their fellow citizens which imply first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life as normal and full as possible.”
Preventive measures must be taken to prevent the occurrence of disabilities. Disability Studies should be made a subject of study from primary level to civil services. In order to address the demand that clearly exists for disability insurance, a low cost platform with standardized products and uniform regulations is likely to be the only approach that can be scaled up at the national level.
In the new scenario, the disabled must be viewed as individuals with a wide range of abilities and each one of them willing and capable to utilize his/her potential and talents. The attitude towards them has already shifted from antipathy to apathy, which should ideally change to empathy. If we bear in mind that disability does not mean “forfeiture of fundamental human rights “ which every human being is entitled to , then we can expect an empowered and recognized society.