The lexicon defines a “differently-abled individual” as someone who has a physical or mental disability that limits the individual from performing normal day to day functions. But the cold-hearted definition does not take into account emotions, it only defines the term as it is. It is therefore much prudent to refer such individuals not as disabled, but differently-abled, as there are examples aplenty wherein differently-abled people have achieved so much more than people without disabilities.
In India, according to the 2001 census, over 21 million people (2.1% of the population) are classified as differently-abled. Disability is sight is leading the list (owing to a severe shortage of corneas for replacement) followed by others.
Statewise, Uttar Pradesh leads the tally in the total disabled population and Lakshadweep has the lowest amongst all the states and the Union Territories.
Infrastructure can be both tangible and intangible and in the case of differently-abled, both hold equal and paramount importance. A country should not see its differently-abled population as a liability but as an opportunity.
Law in developed countries such as Germany requires that at least 5% of their organizations must be filled by the differently-abled which if flouted will lead to heavy penalties by the government. Sensitivity training is another important issue that needs to be addressed by corporations in India; given how people are prone to treating the differently-abled as second class citizens.
Education is of primary importance to a developing country such as India, and more so for its differently-abled personnel and for this, the universities, schools, and colleges must take up combined onus. Firstly, differently-abled students must be facilitated into various courses and basic guidance regarding career choices must be provided to all such students. Awareness and sensitization of teachers and fellow students and scholars is of utmost need, and of the ways of doing this is to observe important days like World Disability Day.
Basic infrastructure must not be forgotten, and the following are some of the ways basic infrastructure can be enabled across a plethora of important landmarks-
- All Banks, ATM’s and other places of importance should have a ramp for differently-abled individuals
- Offices and even public restrooms must have a differently-abled section (there is a handbook of guidelines under the Swachh Bharat Mission)
- Specialized entry and exit for differently-abled across the public transportation system
- Footpaths (both outside and within public buildings/offices) that are friendly to walk for the differently-abled
- Applications (mobile and PC based) that help in navigation and day to day functionality to be made more accessible to the differently-abled so that they gain value from the same.
- Differently-abled people should have special legal support to ensure they don’t face discrimination.
To conclude, it is sufficient to say that gradual and steady steps in this direction, as mentioned above, will not only help the differently-abled, but will help the country and its economy as a whole.