PWD Act – Persons with Disability act
RCI act – Rehabilitation Council of India Act / Rehabilitation Council Act of India

I went to the Little Flower deaf and blind school on 18th March, 2010 to attend a presentation of the government policies and acts available for Persons with Disabilities. The presentation was conducted for special educators working in government schools of various districts in Tamil Nadu. It got me thinking a lot.There were a few complaints from the government school teachers .They said that the assistive devices provided to the children are not customized based on the intensity of hearing or vision impairment. Instead a standard device is given for all. The devices are not even tested regularly for quality maintenance.

Through Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, they get the books which are also the same for the “non-disabled”. But other teaching materials that especially are needed by special educators to teach the children are missing like charts and objects. Government has clearly stated in the PWD act that free comprehensive education support materials are to be provided along with uniforms and books. But It’s not been provided by the government in reality.The teachers themselves fund for these materials. For a year Rs. 500 is alloted to get materials, but mostly the money is mishandled. The teachers pool in money out of their pockets to get the supportive materials. The special educators use sign language for kindergarten to fifth grade students. And for the rest, they use lip reading technique, as there are complex sentences which make sign language a tedious job , especially when technical terms in subjects have to be communicated to students.

As special educators, the school teachers receive an extra incentive of Rs.60 per month. And though these teachers have a union, and have been submitting petitions to the government, no radical action has been taken. Currently they are fighting for an increase in their salary.

And through the RCI act ,they undergo training on rehabilitation for a year. There are government centers which provide this training.

There is no availability of free transportation for the children from their homes to schools or alternative financial incentives to parents or guardians, though PWD Act states that is should be available. The teachers said that the bus passes are of not much use for the children, since they have to be escorted to the bus stands .And also government buses are crowded and not really feasible for the children with disabilities to access.And their parents are unable to escort them everyday to school and take them back home as they are busy fending for the family by going to work.

When it comes to employment, there is a gap again. Government has fixed some vocational rehabilitation institutes that train PWDs only on certain occupations. And now the PWDs are fighting for their equal rights in all professions. They claim that employment be given to them based on their talent and not their form of disability. And they want government to stop assuming about their efficiencies. Government has already assumed that all people with disabilities are capable of managing on unskilled or semi skilled labor and has set up common government vocational institutes for that .For instance government has training centers for carpentry , tailoring and also basic training for PWDs to become electricians etc,. which all fall under the category of “semi skilled” jobs.

Even when there are government vacancies for PWDs in terms of employment, if a seat is not filled, it is supposed to be carried forward but the empty seats are given to the non- disabled students.But every person with disability, who is unemployed, gets an allowance of Rs.400 from the government.

When it comes to inclusive environment, the term is a controversy as we hardly find any building inclusive of all people. But the PWD act (1995) states that there should be no discrimination in built-in environments specifically government ones. But a lot of government complexes and buildings are not inclusive.I witnessed a few government schools myself which aren’t inclusive.Even temples are not inclusive.There has been introduction of talking signals by the government. When it comes to access we not only talk about ramps but also audio announcements for the visually impaired and sign boards for people who have hearing impairment. Satyam theatre in Chennai is fully equipped and inclusive in its infrastructure. Recently it promoted audio descriptions for viewers by connecting the “audio descriptions” to radio FMs of the viewers’ mobiles, where they tune in ,to a particular frequency and can hear the recitals of the films.

According to PWD act, there is supposed to be no discrimination on road, transports, built- in environments and government employments. But there is a common procedure that goes on when people have to travel by air planes. If the person has disability ,(s)he is supposed to sign an indemnity form stating that the airlines is not responsible for his/her aids , if involved in an accident . (S)he is solely responsible for it as the person is born disabled.

The national policy statement gives exclusive provisions for persons with disabilities. For instance, PWDs have equal rights to access sports & recreation programs and this is not mentioned in any of the other acts. Through the statement ,the government is giving grants to students who involve in research and development in the field of disability.

When it comes to stigma and prejudice and attitude toward the PWDs, the condition is worse starting from their homes. The special educators quoted that their schools are called as “umai” (mute) schools. They themselves are derided as “umais” and also when the parents or teachers refer their children, they do not address them by their names,and instead call them “enga umaiyan” (our mute child). The special educators also complained that they are being stigmatized and are not allowed to mingle with the teachers who teach the non-disabled.

Also one special educator quoted an incident where a girl who was disabled was locked up in a room and was not allowed to attend her sister’s wedding by her parents. She lives in the school hostel and doesn’t live with her parents. The girl comes from a well educated family who fear that their reputation might get affected if they have a PWD at home.

Also a lot of pointers were given in the presentation about adopting “People first behavior” and how to treat PWDs, which involved mostly mannerism ethics. For instance it is most appropriate to refer as “persons with disabilities” instead of “disabled people” , by putting the person into perspective first. For instance there is an unethical prevalence of addressing a person without any impairment as ‘normal’ instead of the correct term “non- disabled’. A person with a hearing impairment should be referred as a ‘mute’ and not ‘dumb’. For which a participant enquired that some children are able to produce sounds and communicate their needs, and in what way calling them “mute” would be appropriate? And while leading a blind person on the road, it’s appropriate to let him/her hold you, instead of you holding the person which is a wrong gesture of patronization rather than facilitation.