In India, the number of divyangjan, differently abled people, who are living with various disabilities, is 26,810,557 as per the 2011 census. This number does not include people with vision in one eye or hearing in one ear which would make many daily tasks, such as driving or riding a two-wheeler, impossible. The number also does not include people who are elderly or recovering from an illness that might make daily routines difficult. Even without these inclusions, the number of nearly 27 million people is huge. Compare it with 23 million, the population of Australia or 35 million, the population of Canada.
A large number of divyang people are important members of our society with a lot to contribute in a wide variety of fields. Deepa Malik, for example, has accomplished so many incredible things including motorcycling, rally racing and most recently, winning a silver medal for shot put in the Rio Paralympics. Yet, many adults still struggle to live an independent life not because they are incapable, but because of a lack of infrastructure and other societal support mechanisms.
Simple solutions such as access ramps and appropriate toilet facilities in public buildings or sloped ends to pavements, can make a world of difference to whether a divyang can move around on their own or if they require someone to help them at all times as this little video shows (incidentally made by one of the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks). Additionally, there have to be changes made to how we perceive differently abled people as a society. The focus must be on integrating them into mainstream education as well as the workforce. Skill development programs must be the focus for now. Special attention must also be given to boosting self-confidence and providing differently abled people with more role models, both in real life and as fictional characters in various media such as movies and comic books.
The GoI has started the Accessible India campaign that aims to make all government buildings and public spaces accessible to everyone. It also plans to put as many books and documents online as possible, in order to make them more accessible. The Ministry for Urban Development has brought out a much-needed document on guidelines and standards to “˜provide a barrier free built environment for persons with disability and elderly people”™. This is especially important because in the absence of standards, greed or sheer ignorance often results in completely inaccessible public spaces for anyone who isn”™t a top athlete. Adhering to guidelines for maximum slopes, railings, staircases etc. will also reduce potential accidents as a bonus.
The amount of work being done to integrate divyangs is very heartening. You can read more about this here and here. There are still miles to go but for now, it is wonderful to finally have a government that is truly inclusive in its policies!