By: Surekha Dhaleta
Shimla: In a landmark announcement, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Sarveen Chaudhry assured that Himachal will have a State Disability Policy soon and this task will be completed within sixty days.
The critical announcement was made in response to a query posed to Chaudhry by HimVani, that Himachal does not have its own Disability Policy given the regional specificities like rugged terrain and topographical variations, though the national policy for People with Disability Act calls for such specific provisions at the state levels.
Chaudhry assured HimVani at a Children’s Workshop held in Shimla on July 1, 2008, on the theme of ‘Disability rights: Role of Young Generation’, that the policy would be drafted within sixty days.
The workshop was organised by the Himachal Chapter of Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies (SDRS) and was sponsored by BSNL and State Bank of India, Summer Hill Branch.
The programme started with the National Song, Vande Mataram. An exhibition of paintings of deaf and low vision children from Dhalli School for Deaf and Dumb and Prerna (Totu ) was also held. Visually challenged students from Dhalli school also showcased their singing talent by presenting a Saraswati Vandana. The minister gave away certificates and prizes to the disabled children.
According to the Chairman of SDRS, Ajai Srivastva, the workshop was held to create awareness among students and differently-abled individuals and other stakeholders on the issues of disability and the rights of the differently-abled individuals. Srivastava elucidated that this is an attempt to facilitate an interaction between differently-abled students and other students, so that young students get sensitised to issues of disability and have a wider perspective in understanding the problems faced by differently-abled individuals.
Srivastava also informed the congregation about the first of its kind ‘Live Phone in Program’ which is aired on AIR and FM Shimla, wherein a panel of experts on disability, disseminate information related to disability issues, rights of disabled etc. and also listen to the queries and problems of disabled people and help them find a solution and also help to let their grievances be heard by the appropriate authorities.
As many as 90 children, including 65 disabled, participated in the workshop. A number of principals from different schools, parents of disabled children, social activists and some students of social work were also present in the workshop, which also included differently-abled students from Dhalli School for Deaf and Dumb, students from NGOs like Udaan; Prerna (Totu). Other eminent guests who attended the workshop included prominent social worker Saroj Vashisth, a prolific blood donor Kuthiyala, Prabha Rajeev (Joint Director, Social Justice Deptt.), Mr Mudgil (Deputy Director, Social Justice Deptt.), Special educator Poonam Pandey from National Association for the Blind.
R K Jain who chaired the workshop stressed upon the mainstreaming of differently-abled individuals. Sunil K Gupta , Vice Chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University who was the special guest at the workshop in a very supportive gesture expressed his concern for boosting the morale of differently-abled individuals, he said that legal provisions are being provided but what we need is to remove the stigma attached with disability and let the element of inferiority fade off with our positive orientation.He also informed about the various programs in pipeline being initiated at the University level in HPU for disabled people for which UGC is likely to give funds.
Aaarti Rana from the NGO Udaan briefed the gathering about the National Trust Act, 1999 and also briefly explained the concept of ‘local guardianship’ which is one of the provisions in the act . She said that the most obvious question that remains with parents of mentally challenged children is what after them? In order to provide a solution to this problem the Act has a provision wherein a local level executive committee can be formed and a mentally challenged individual above 18 years of age can be taken care of by the committee and skills enhancing the abilities of the person can also be imparted to the deserving person under the guardianship of the committee.
Poonam Pandey, a special educator from National Association for Blind (NAB), Delhi who has been visiting different institutions of the disabled in Shimla stressed upon the need for a comprehensive and regular assessment of the health of the differently abled students so that the onset of multiple disabilities can be regulated at intial stages.She also expressed a need for updating the knowledge and skills of special educators in various schools. And also suggested that programs like interaction of normal students with the disabled students should be encouraged in schools.
Principal of the Arya girls school, Shimla exhorted the gathering of students and other stakeholders to pledge their eyes for donation, so that visually challenged people can be benefited.
Srivastava lamented the government apathy as accordingly an eye bank established at Indira Gandhi Medical College Hospital, Shimla; which is supposed to be a big facilitator in making cornea transplant available to visually challenged individuals has been non functional and is not equipped with proper measures and facilities for the same. More than two thousand visually impaired persons are there in the state who could get sight by transplanting a cornea, but due to non -functioning of the said eye bank this remains a distant dream.
He also highlighted the disparate student- teacher ratio in institutes for the disabled by taking an example of Dhalli school where at present approximately 125 students are being taught by only two teachers, which shows the gross neglect of skilled manpower in such institutes.
Students and other people including research scholars , social workers, representatives of NGOs and other stakeholders attending the workshop raised intriguing questions and sought information related to disability and and rights of the disabled in Himachal from the panel of officials from the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry.
Ranjeet form Dhalli school wanted to know about the different institutes being run for the disabled through out the state, to which the officials responded that government run school included one in Sundernagar which is being run for hearing and visually impaired girls. The Dhalli school for boys is being run by Council for Child Welfare. Other schools include one in Sakoh, Dharamshala, and some of the prominent ones in the state are being run by different NGOs like Chetna in Bilaspur, Sahyog in Mandi, Astha in Nahan, NAB in Kullu, Prem Ashram in Una, Udaan in Shimla etc.
Virender Sood expressed his concern for the vocational rehabilitation of the differently abled to which the officials responded that backlog of the government posts reserved (3 %) for the persons with disabilities is being cleared in a time bound manner and as a result around 548 posts have been filled up in various departments and recently 6 ITI’s have been identified in the state which will be imparting training to differently-abled persons in 7 different trades.
Srivastava also raised the question of stipulated time variation in the CBSE and HP board examination wherein the CBSE board provides 1 hour extra to disabled candidates for a three hour exam, but HP board was just providing half an hour extra.
Lokendra from Dhalli school also expressed a desire to know about what the government was doing to improvise sports skills of disabled students and if the government had any intention of providing a sports hostel for such students.
S K Sehgal raised the question of auditing of the funds and aids being provided to the NGOs working in the field of disability and whether there was transparency in utilization of these funds and also enquired about what facilities were being provided in relation to the health related problems of disabled students.
Ruchi Thakur from Arya Girls school wanted to know what good the reforms for the disabled had done for them in Himachal, , and what the students could do for their differently-abled friends. Gayatri enquired about the entertainment facilities available for disabled students at these institutes.