Professor Stephen Hawking, Astro physicist, with acute motor neurone disease which crippled his life: “People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers we face: attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach and we have a moral duty to do so… But most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world. Governments everywhere can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education, and employment—and never get the chance to shine.”
In the words of a disabled child, “I lost my leg by landmine when I was 5 years old, at that time I went to the rice field with my mother to get firewood. Unfortunately, I stepped on a mine. After the accident I was very sad when I saw the other children playing or swimming in the river because I have no leg. I used to stand with my crutch made of wood and I wish I could play freely like the other children too. And when I walked to school some children, they called me kombot, meaning disabled person, and [the discrimination] make me feel shy and cry and disappointed. So, I want all people to have equal rights and not discriminate against each other.”
India has much higher disabled population than reported
When 15% of World’s population (Fig 1) is suffering from disabilities (2011), much higher than 10% of the population (1970), when 13% of US population, 20% of UK population are disabled, in India how only 2.21% of the population is disabled (2011) is a paradox. Due to taboo families shy away reporting disabled person/s in family apprehensive of social status, wedding prospects of children.
India has a higher proportion of disabled than reported with rise in ageing population, chronic health conditions, road traffic accidents, natural disasters, substance abuse.
21 disabilities recognized in India
The disabilities (https://www.inforthecause.org/21-disabilities/) approved by Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 lists 21 types: Blindness; Low Vision; Leprosy Cured persons; Locomotor Disability; Dwarfism; Intellectual Disability; Mental Illness; Cerebral Palsy; Specific Learning Disabilities; Speech and language disability; Hearing Impairment (Deaf and Hard of Hearing); Muscular Dystrophy; Acid Attack Victim; Parkinson’s disease; Multiple Sclerosis; Thalassemia; Haemophilia; Sickle Cell disease; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Chronic Neurological conditions; Multiple Disabilities including Deaf Blindness.
Appreciation of disability
Even if we make an attempt to understand each disability, awareness and empathy will help perceiving the predicament.
1. Autism: is a developmental disorder characterized by troubles with social interaction, communication, repetitive behaviour. Parents may notice signs of autism within three years of child’s age with gradually developing signs, which can be a lifelong disorder. Examples include inconsistent eye contact and attention to people, facial expressions that do not match with the situation, being more/less sensitive than usual to sound and light. Sometimes they may also be with exceptional skills in mathematics, science, music, art.
2. Acid attack victim: Acid attack (vitriol age), is an assault of throwing acid or a corrosive substance on another with intent to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill. Sulfuric / nitric / hydrochloric acid are used. Aqueous solutions of alkaline like caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), are also used. The victims may have scars, disfigurement, blindness, breathing difficulties, and period of rehabilitation can take 10 years. It is reported that there are at least 1000 attacks per year with more than 85% on women.
3. Blindness: Vision impairment or vision loss, decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems cannot be fully corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Decreased ability to see as they have no access to glasses or contact lenses. Blindness is complete or nearly complete vision loss. Visual impairment affects normal daily activities including driving, reading, socializing, walking. Common causes are uncorrected refractive errors, glaucoma, cataracts.
4. Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, coordination is a permanent movement disorder since childhood. Symptoms are poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, tremors, problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, speaking, problems with thinking or reasoning. Babies are unable to roll over, sit, crawl, walk as early as other children of their age, delays in speech development, difficulty in speaking, problems in swallowing, trouble in grasping objects, neurological problems, intellectual disabilities and blindness.
5. Chronic neurological condition: Disorders of nervous system, structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, spinal cord, other nerves with symptoms – paralysis, muscle weakness, poor coordination, loss of sensation, seizures, confusion, pain, altered levels of consciousness. These are diagnosed by neurological examination, in the specialities of neurology and clinical neuropsychology.
6. Dwarfism: Short stature with adult height of less than 4 feet 10 inches are considered in dwarfism, commonly due to genetic mutation, affecting bone growth. Complications are bowing of legs, hunch back and crowded teeth. Disproportionate dwarfism is characterized by either short limbs or a short torso. Surgery, hormone therapy is often used to remedy. Their normal intelligence and lifespan are usual.
7. Hearing impairment (Deaf and hard of hearing) Deaf (70 decibel Hearing loss in both ears), hard of hearing (60 to 70 decibel hearing loss in both ears) is total inability or partial inability to hear. Hearing loss can be in one or both ears, affecting ability to learn spoken language. In the aged, hearing loss can lead to loneliness. Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
8. Haemophilia: This inherited genetic disorder affects males and very rarely females with an incidence of one in 10,000 male births. Severe bruising and prolonged bleeding are the symptoms. Blood will not have enough clotting factor as protein in the blood that controls clotting is missing. Internal bleeding is difficult to identify and external bleeding is easy to notice. There is no cure.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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