WHILE PRESENTING NATIONAL AWARDS FOR THE WELFARE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
03-12-2002 : Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi
I am indeed delighted to participate in this function to mark the International Day of Disabled and to present the national awards for the welfare of people with disability. I congratulate all the individuals, institutions, employers and technology innovators for their outstanding contribution in the area of rehabilitation of persons with physical challenges. I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment for undertaking the mission to improve the quality of life of the people with disabilities. I have been visiting various states and meeting children, people of all walks of life including those who are in hospitals with pain, disabled persons in the special schools and organizations and mentally challenged people. People with disabilities would definitely like to have a life like any other citizen and participate in all social activities, employment etc.,
Convergence of Technology
When I was working in Anna University, Chennai, in addition to my teaching the engineering students on various societal transformation missions, I was also guiding a student for his doctoral research. The research is to find a software hardware integrated solution to achieve a near normal functioning of the brain of mentally challenged children. When I saw some of the mentally challenged children performing certain activities like singing, painting in Central Institute of Mental Retardation, Thiruvananthapuram, I got convinced that one day convergence of information and communication technology, medical electronics, bio-technology and mathematical simulation can find a solution for their problem. We have been studying the mentally challenged children in various research institutions, homes for mentally retarded and hospitals. We were sure that by transforming the functions of the damaged portion of the brain to the normal portion of the brain by some triggering mechanism, or by implanting a bio chip to carry-out those functions the problem could be solved to some extent. Can it be solved ? The research still continues. We target to achieve a few remarkable milestones in this research by 2005.
Indigenous Manufacturing of Critical Support Systems
Yet another concern I have, today in India, we do not have Cochlear Implant manufacturing units. Cochlear implant helps the deaf and dumb child to regain near normal hearing capabilities. Basically it is by-passing the damaged inner ear portion by replacing its functions with an electronic system having external mike, speech processing circuit, transmitter and an receiver. The receiver is implanted below the ear. The receiver has an electrode which will be inserted into the cochlea portion of the ear. Speech processor processes the input audio signals and converts them into electrical signals in various channels. The transmitter transmits these signals to the implant's multi channel electrode which terminates in various points of the of the cochlea. At Vikram Hospitals, Coimbatore, I saw children who could hear and converse after implanting and subsequent IT aided training. The cost of imported cochlear implant is around Rupees 7 lakhs which common man cannot afford. Series of research and development activities should be initiated to establish cochlear implant manufacturing capabilities in India with the objective of bringing down the cost of all components, surgery and post operative training to around Rupees 40 to 50 thousand.
Vision for the nation
In our country, 340 million people are below the poverty line. Poverty generates number of deficiencies leading to health disabilities. Also people suffer from various types of handicaps ranging to 200-300 million. The economic prosperity is very vital for removing health deficiencies and for providing assistive devices for persons who are physically challenged.
After five decades of progress, the aspirations of people are rightly mounting that India should become a developed country. This is the second vision for the nation. How can we prepare ourselves to this challenge? India has to be economically and commercially powerful with near self-reliance in defence.
Our target should be a GDP growth of 9-11% annually and that the people below poverty line to be reduced to nearly zero. This would also include providing of sufficient employment opportunities to the physically and mentally challenged.
Five mega projects to transform the nation to a developed country
Technology Vision 2020 is a pathway to realise this cherished mission. The Technology Vision 2020 consisted of 17 well linked technology packages in the core sectors. We have identified five areas where India has a core competence for an integrated action: (1) Agriculture and food processing (2) Reliable and quality electric power and surface transport for all parts of the country. (3) Education and Healthcare (4) Information and Communication Technology (5) Strategic sectors.
These five areas are closely inter-related and if well done would lead to national, food, economic and security. A strong partnership among the R&D, academy, industry and the community as a whole with the Government departments will be essential to accomplish the vision for a developed India.
Disability friendly education and working place
One of the important concerns is to provide easy accessibility to public buildings, schools, colleges, banks, transport etc. I understand Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has made proper provisions for the benefit of those who are physically challenged. We should make all efforts to provide conducive working environment with easy accessibility. A triangular approach to handle, educate and empower the disabled has to be in place with parents, teachers and social service/health care agencies. Technological and industrial partners in this effort should aim at providing affordable devices and dependable services.
Assistive devices can often minimize handicaps. While we have developed many new and useful items, we need to pay attention to quality as well as costing. R&D in this field is vital. We must harness IT to improve access to the printed word for persons with visual impairment. While text in English can be scanned, transferred to the computer and heard through voice software, this facility is not yet available for the Indian languages. Efficient conversion to Braille has also not been achieved. While material in English can easily be transcribed in Braille, again this facility is not available for Indian languages. Consequently, availability of text books in the Indian languages in Braille is still limited and production is costly and time consuming. We should develop the necessary software quickly to meet this need.
I understand, more than 500 million persons -- 10 per cent of the world's population, an estimated 80 per cent of them living in the developing world -- suffer from some type of physical, mental or sensory impairment. We have to make efforts to ensure that disabled persons get equal opportunities and they do not remain isolated in many societies. We have to provide "equalization of opportunity" for persons with disabilities by providing seemingly simple, basic, and obvious services as access ramps and sidewalk indentations for the convenience of the disabled people. We need to realize the fact that this society is for all, encompassing human diversity and the development of the human potential in each person.
Internet and Disabled
I am sure Internet will play a major role in rehabilitation measures of disabled. I visualize a scene in which all disabled have to become part of the Internet culture. We can have access to information. Lack of access to the right information at the right time is equally a bothering concern for the disabled. Internet provides solution to these types of problems. On-line shopping and online transaction to pay various government service departments have greatly helped to minimize the movement. A separate study to understand and explore various strengths of the disabled persons may be carried-out. Internet can assist them in having a virtual - online - e-mail groups etc. Physical mobility of the disabled may be minimized or eliminated by the virtual office concepts in which people are allowed to work from their homes through computers and deliver their work output to their offices online.
Rehabilitation process should aim at enabling persons with disabilities to reach and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric and/or social functional levels, thus providing them with the tools to change their lives towards a higher level of independence. Rehabilitation process has to include measures to provide and/or restore functions, or compensate for the loss or absence of a function or for a functional limitation. It should include a wide range of measures and activities from more basic and general rehabilitation to goal-oriented activities, for instance vocational rehabilitation.
I am aware that advanced composites technologies are helping the disabled to have the lost leg - endo skeletal artificial limbs. I could see the happiness of the recipients in Bhuj after earthquake disaster. Plastics help easy making of Braille by visually handicapped. These types of technologies should be adopted on a large scale.
We should work for the process through which the various systems of society and the environment, such as services, activities, information and documentation, are made available to all, particularly to persons with disabilities. The principle of equal rights implies that the needs of each and every individual are of equal importance, that those needs must be made the basis for the planning of societies and that all resources must be employed in such a way as to ensure that every individual has equal opportunity for participation. They should receive the support they need within the ordinary structures of education, health, employment and social services. As persons with disabilities achieve equal rights, they should also have equal obligations. As those rights are being achieved, societies should raise their expectations of persons with disabilities. As part of the process of equal opportunities, provision should be made to assist persons with disabilities to assume their full responsibility as members of society. Once again, I wish to congratulate the award winners and organizers for their care and concern in bringing the rightful environment for the disabled to perform. Best wishes. May God bless you.