NATIONAL AWARDS FOR THE WELFARE OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
03-12-2004 : New Delhi
Ability in the midst of disabilities
I am indeed delighted to participate in the National Award function for the Welfare of people with special abilities organized by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. It is very important to recognize outstanding employees, employers, placement officers, individuals, institutions and creative disabled persons from different walks of life. My greetings to all the awardees, who have worked consistently for many years, to achieve this recognition. I would like to discuss with you on the topic ?Ability in the midst of disabilities?.
Rehabilitation process should aim at enabling persons to reach and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and social functional level. It has to include measures to provide and restore functions to compensate for the loss or absence of a function. It should include from more basic and general rehabilitation to goal-oriented activities, for instance vocational rehabilitation.
Training is an important educational mechanism to remove the disabilities. We have recently come across one interview with a wrestler who is kneeless and handless. The training from childhood, will power to be on own and above all the willingness of benefactors with love and compassion to go all out to help such special persons, demonstrate that the special abilities can be built.
Dr Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University is one of the most accomplished physists of our time. This great scholar was affected by motor neuron disease which deterioted so much that threatened his research career. His speech became slurry and many people predicted that he will not live to complete his Ph D. His determination and the help that he received from modern technology and some close friends, made sure that he not only lived to complete his Ph.D but also made the most enviable contribution to Physics, the string theory. He is a great living example in radiating the confidence to win in the midst of number of physical disabilities.
Blossoming of spirit of service
I have experienced during my aerospace missions that the composite product technologies helped the disabled to have light weight artificial limbs or FROs (Floor Reaction Orthosis) ? Calipers at an affordable cost. I could see the happiness of the recipients in Bhuj after earthquake disaster and in remote villages in Ranga Reddy district. Now I would like to narrate my experience of visiting a FRO Camp at Belgaum for providing rehabilitation to polio affected and special children.
A seven year old boy Master Bhimappa, son of a labourer belonging to Belgaum District, Karnataka studying in primary school had lost both his lower limbs in a road accident. He wrote to me a letter seeking help for rehabilitation. Then three of my friends Dr. A.S. Pillai, Dr. L. Narendranath, and Shri. Mayank Diwedi, went into action.
Dr. Narendranath, Orthopedic Surgeon, NIMS, Hyderabad examined the boy ? diagnosed and prescribed bilateral above knee prosthesis for him. Sthree Sakthi of Lions club of Belgaum came all out to help the boy by taking him to Hyderabad and treatment commenced on fitment and gait training. With this prosthesis fitment, Master Bhimappa walked confidently and was able to negotiate distances comfortably. Based on this experience Dr. Vijayalakshmi, President of Lions Club sought my help for providing light weight calipers to many polio affected children of Belgaum region. Our team of doctors and engineers when into action, lions club organized camps to screen the children for fitment trial.
Diagnosis and Fitment
The polio children and their parents reposed tremendous confidence in light weight caliper (FRO). During the screening camp the response of the polio children and their parents was exhilarating. About 1300 polio cases reported for the polio camp from eight villages around Belgaum.
About 430 cases were found fit for the fitment of caliper. ALIMCO, a unit of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment produced the calipers and fitment was carried out to 316 children by the team members of NIMS and DRDO supported by ?The Association of the Physically Handicapped? (APH) headed by Ms. Shakuntla Paranjpe, who herself is a physically challenged and has dedicated herself for the rehabilitation of physically handicapped personnel.
Ability in the midst of disabilities
I interacted with those 316 children at Belgaum on 15th October 2004. To my great happiness, Master Bhimappa with his newly fitted prostheses received me for this function. When Master Bhimappa walked towards me with a big smile in his face, I realized how good hearts and technology, bring abilities in the midst of disabilities. All the 316 polio children, fitted with light weight walking aids, along with their parents and approximately 42,000 school children greeted me. I met each and every child fitted with FRO, visually challenged children and members of the rehabilitation team. It was a moving experience for me. I witnessed the celebration of the service coming out of human hearts.
I am confident that the NGOs and Government functionaries participating in this programme can follow this model for providing relief and rehabilitation to the differently able children and bringing smile in their faces.
Experience in Tanzania
I visited Tanzania and South Africa during September 2004. My programme included a visit to Uhuru Primary School in Dar-Es-Salaam, Capital of Tanzania where an inclusive training is provided to physically challenged children along with other students. Uhuru Primary School set up in 1921 also admits children with multiple disabilities along with other children. This I consider a great social cause.
Prior to our visit to Tanzania, Shrimathi Meira Kumar, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment had sent a team of doctors and experts with appropriate systems like wheel chairs, hearing aids, prosthetic kits, headphones and Braille slates to Dar-Es-Salaam. Nearly 500 Tanzanian children were provided the assistive devices like hearing aid, tricycles, folding canes and Braille slates. Our team also trained them for using these devices in their day-to-day activities.
When I reached the school on 13th September 2004, it was a moving sight to see physically and visually challenged children trying to keep in tune with their school mates. A band was at hand playing rhythmic tunes on which the children were singing and dancing to celebrate the arrival of the ability. I realize whether India or anywhere, the abilities provided to the special children bring happiness coupled with thankfulness.
Conquest of Vision Challenges through Technology Tools
I met number of people who have fought and conquered the vision challenges. Particularly on 23-Aug-2004, I met Mr. Asif Ali who shared with me his experiences in overcoming the vision challenges that he faced during his teen age and how the technology tools such as screen reader software using with the laptop helped him to continue his studies up to post graduation level. He is able to read electronic books, send emails, participate in seminars and presentation and feel very normal and able to carry out his day-to-day activities. Now he is a confident engineer, he takes class in the Symbiosis school. Technology has enabled him to overcome the problem though at a high cost which he is able to afford. I am sure many may be able to benefit from this experience but we have to make special effort to make the technological tools available to them through societal mission at an affordable cost.
I am thinking how these technologies can be made available to common people, who are challenged by the vision difficulties. If the software and hardware for the visually challenged persons are available at an affordable cost, if the software is accessible through web, then certainly it will reach the needy and will be of help to them to overcome the problems. In this effort, in Rashtrapati Bhavan, as a first step my friends are working on a ?Speech Applet? which provides a speech interface to my website for the visually disabled persons and it will be released on 26 Jan 2005. It will be made available to all, through my website for download, so that it can be configured at their web servers to provide a speech interface for the visually challenged persons. It will be certainly useful for the institutions who are imparting training to the visually challenged persons for making the content available and accessible. It will be also useful for visually challenged individuals.
As a next step, we are working with the R&D institutions to integrate the speech interface with the open source operating systems in English and other Indian languages. In order to make it available in a cost effective manner, we are working towards providing a speech interface through the indigenously developed handheld PC called ?Simputer? to visually challenged persons. These hardware, software integrated system can be called as ?Virtual Vision?. The government agencies and various private organizations can take up this mission of development and production of ?Virtual Vision?.
Implementation of Disability Bill
I would like to emphasize that government institutions should respect the Disability Bill which provides three percent job reservations for differently able persons. There must be a mechanism for effective monitoring of adherence to the Bill by the concerned ministries and departments, so that the differently able personnel are able to lead an economically independent normal life. I have seen few states have taken initiative on their own to assist training and absorption in governmental units. All of us have the responsibility to help such persons. Much more than the legal provisions are the need to empower disabled persons with right type of knowledge, skills and technology. Then alone they will have the fullest self-esteem.
Missions for special abilities
I would suggest the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in partnership with other social institutions to undertake the following missions for immediate implementation.
1. Generation of statistics about the employment status of the two crore persons with the special disabilities distributed in different parts of the country. This should also include those who have disabilities due to accidents or other disasters.
2. Ensuring that all the industrial establishments and offices, public utilities including private sector establishments comply with the need for making available disabled friendly work place to their employees.
3. Promoting private, public and joint sector enterprises with the support of banks for manufacturing high tech assistive devices for differently abled people. The developments of such devices may also be made available to other developing countries.
4. Making the people understand that providing the support for removing their disability is the genuine right of the special people.
5. Requesting medical institutions to provide voluntary orthopedic corrective help to polio affected patients who cannot be fitted with standard FROs.
6. Creating a movement for removing the disability through special ability missions in rural areas.
The 2001 census indicates that over two crore people suffer from different types of disabilities. The category wise distribution of disabilities is as follows: visual one crore, locomotors sixty lakh, mentally challenged twenty two lakh, hearing thirteen lakh, speech sixteen lakh. The largest number of disabilities is either visually challenged or movement disability. Hence, all the effort must be directed towards finding technology tools for removing these two impairments in a time bound manner. The work done in removing this pain is definitely God?s work. I would request the NGOs, corporates, academicians, philanthropists and the government to join together for finding lasting solution to make the life of these two crore people in the country productive. This I would consider a great contribution towards human resource mobilization for the national development mission.
Meanwhile we require an innovative and caring mind to provide productive employment to the disabled persons. To achieve this a committee of experts including representatives from corporate and voluntary sectors have identified around 120 occupations at executive/management/supervisory levels and around 946 occupations at skilled/semi-skilled/unskilled levels including call centers for employing disabled persons without compromising the quality of work. Organizations and industry should voluntarily come forward to offer some of the occupations to the disabled so that they can realize their economic independence and free them from the pain of disability.
Once again I congratulate all the award winners and wish you all success in your efforts for making India disability free.
May God bless you.