Address at Felicitation Programme of Children Orthopaedic Care Institute (COCI)

Mr. Abhishek Krishna, Collector Nagpur, Mr. U.N. Shingade, Founder & President COCI and Mr. Lohakare, Secretary COCI, my colleagues, friends from NGOs, friends from media, ladies and gentlemen – Good Evening !. Let me thank first of all “Nagai Narayanji Memorial Foundation” having invited me to speak here today and share some of my thoughts. It is indeed a great honour and privilege given the fact that most of you work directly with the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) while my work is towards the periphery! The primary goal of any organization, I believe to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain a desired quality of life, in condition of freedom, equality, security and human dignity.

When I received the invitation, I was at a lost to make up my mind what exactly do I speak in front of such distinguished doctors who have dedicated a large amount of their time, energy and expertise to built the citizen of India, who are disadvantaged from many angles. I was also struggling to find a common thread that atleast bind you and me that would have some amount of value addition in the splendid work that you are doing

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

I have been invited here to share some of my thoughts which I have gathered, nurtured and sometimes painstakingly fought with different establishments to see that the agenda of inclusion which has in modern times diversified, also include PwDs.

20 years ago, PwD Act was passed by the Parliament of India, whose symbolic shadow we stand today, which was like signing the Emancipation Proclamation for PwDs in India. This momentous decree came as a great beaconing light of hope to millions of PwDs who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice from both society as well as the government. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 20 years later, the PwDs in our country are still not free. 20 years later, the life of the PwDs is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and discrimination. 20 years, later, the PwDs lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity under the double digit growth and India shining. 20 years later, the PwDs are still languished in the corners of our society and finds themselves an exile in their own land. Otherwise in a civilized society, Jeeja Ghosh would not have been offloaded from the plane by the captain of Spice jet just because she has a disability. What a shame ….!

Studies have shown that a majority of existing Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) papers fail to address the needs of people with disabilities, and often relegate disability issues to side programs without considering them within the mainstream strategies targeted at the general population. Additionally there is a significant lack of monitoring and evaluations of benefits and outcomes of PRS for people with disabilities.

Exclusion from mainstream reforms and systems has marginalized people with disabilities for generations, and it is vital that measures aiming to improve well-being and standards of living, reducing poverty, and increasing means of economic sustenance include them at every stage of the process.

However, it is critical to note that people with disabilities need access to all dimensions of poverty reduction mechanisms and infrastructure such as water supply, sanitation, and transportation. Due to the need to consider and include them in general development projects, Inclusive Development is increasingly recognized as a key component of successful and sustainable development.

The social and environmental obstacles that marginalize and impoverish disabled people cannot be dissolved by any one kind of entity or organization, but only through the collaborative efforts of diverse stakeholders that include the government, civil society organizations and many many dedicated groups such as yours.

It took an Aamir Khan and a “Taare Zameen Par‟ to focus the attention of the ‘aam admi’ on the plight of children with learning disabilities (LD) in this country. While it is heartening that LD is now getting long overdue attention, it is not the only developmental disability that we need to be concerned about but all other disabilities and impairment as well. Early identification and intervention has assumed importance because several of these conditions are not fully well understood medically. Given this context, currently, early intervention is documented to be the best option in terms of measured long-term benefits. Early intervention has a dual effect – it not only helps the child to develop skills that are expected at his age, but equally importantly prevents the child from developing negative behaviors consequent to the developmental issues faced by him/her.

Disability and public health have historically been separated by problems related to focus, definition and misperception. Encouraging trends are, however, emerging in public health that considers the health of people with disabilities as a priority.

Disability is extremely diverse. While some health conditions associated with disability result in poor health and extensive health care needs, others do not. However all people with disabilities have the same general health care needs as everyone else, and therefore need access to mainstream health care services. Article 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) reinforces the right of persons with disabilities to attain the highest standard of health care, without discrimination.

People with disabilities report seeking more health care than people without disabilities and have greater unmet needs. For example, a recent survey of people with serious mental disorders, showed that between 35% and 50% of people in developed countries, and between 76% and 85% in developing countries, received no treatment in the year prior to the study. Health promotion and prevention activities seldom target people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to deficiencies in health care services. Depending on the group and setting, persons with disabilities may experience greater vulnerability to secondary conditions, co-morbid conditions, age-related conditions, engaging in health risk behaviors and higher rates of premature death.

“Many times when I request passers-by to help me cross the road, they do so either by clutching my shirt collar or shirt sleeves. At that moment I feel so inferior and insignificant” ………(Male, visually impaired person, India)

“While travelling by bus I find it difficult to stand for a long time. However, even on repeated requests no one offers his seat.” …………..(Physically disabled person, India)

“I do not climb into six seaters because I am shy that people would come to know that I am deaf” …….(Female, hearing impaired person, India)

“I am scared to sit in the special compartment for the disabled in suburban trains. Many times drunkards and other suspicious characters occupy it. I prefer to travel in the general ladies’ compartment even though it is extremely crowded” ………..(Female, physically disabled, India)

Mutual respect and understanding contribute to an inclusive society. Therefore it is vital to improve public understanding of disability, confront negative perceptions, and represent disability fairly. For example, education authorities should ensure that schools are inclusive and have an ethos of valuing diversity. Employers should be encouraged to accept their responsibilities towards staff with disabilities.

Beliefs and prejudices constitute barriers when health-care workers cannot see past the disability, teachers do not see the value in teaching children with disabilities, employers discriminate against people with disabilities, and family members have low expectations of their relatives with disabilities. Implementation of communication campaigns to increase public knowledge and understanding of disability. The persons with disabilities have been often mocked, teased, dehumanized, feared or rejected, pitied or even left alone.

I am extremely inspired by Sir Martin Luther King, Jr. who in his historic speech had once said and I quote;

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood

and he goes on………

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a dream. I have a dream that every person with disability in this country will be emancipated and will live a life of dignity, respect, equality and fulfillment. I am sure, that is what a progressive society is all about and that is what we all are aiming at. Let’s live in a progressive society………..Let’s be the progressive society……!!!

Thank you……!!!