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Visual disability and the Indian policy makers

by Adhimoolam Vetrivel Murugan

In India, Visually disabled people have realized that those with visual impairments, in all the countries and cultures of the world, have one experience in common, an experience that stares at them constantly, hurts them relentlessly. This single common experience, cutting across geographical, political and cultural boundaries, is Discrimination.

In case of the developing countries like India, the intensity of social deprivation is even more and if it is accompanied with other socially constructed inequalities such as caste, class, race, gender etc., then it becomes extremely formidable for them to overcome the social oppression.

The Indian constitution provides equal rights to all citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, sex or any other institutionalized structures. It is true that since independence, a series of measures have been taken up for the upliftment of various marginalized sections of our society. However, perhaps surprisingly, systematic discrimination against the visually disabled people continues to exist and gets legitimised by the actions of supposedly sensitive and educated citizens of our nation. Under these circumstances, it is important, to take a look at the attitude of Indian policy makers towards the people with visual disability.

Since India's independence, the policy makers treat physically disabled persons as the recipients of the state sponsored welfare schemes. Though, one cannot completely neglect the benefits of these schemes, mere welfare schemes are inadequate to facilitate the visually disabled to perform major roles as the able individuals. Therefore, the role of the state components such as the legislature, executive, and the judiciary system becomes extremely important in transforming the societal attitude towards persons with disabilities.

In the last decade, academicians, social activists, and policy makers have realized the need for integrating disabled persons into the mainstream society. Due to their coordinated efforts, the "Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights & Full Participation) Act" was introduced in Parliament in 1995 and it was a significant landmark in empowering persons with disabilities, including the visually disabled ones.

This act for the first time treated the rights of persons with disability as the Human rights. The act establishes responsibility on the society to make relevant adjustments, so as to help the visually disabled overcome various practical, psychological and social hurdles created by their disability. The act places disabled people on a par with other citizens of India with respect to education, vocational training and employment. Thus, for a change, the state treated the "persons with disabilities" as an active participant in various social activities rather than the recipients of mere welfare schemes. Due to these developments, the disabled are viewed as individuals with a wide range of abilities and each one of them willing and capable to utilize his/her potential and talents.

It is true that the passing of the disability act in parliament was a major achievement in the empowerment of visually disabled persons. However, practically very little has been done in the direction of its proper implementation. According to this act, it is mandatory for the state to take adequate measures to remove poverty, illiteracy, and other barriers, which deny disabled people their right to live with dignity. However, the policy makers are not only ignorant about these aspects, but also concentrate on reinforcing the existing institutionalized socially constructed barriers.

This act empowers the state to identify jobs in the establishments, which can be reserved for persons with disability, to review the list of posts identified at periodical intervals not exceeding three years, and to update the list taking into consideration the developments in technology. In this context, it should be noted that with the modern technological developments, the visually disabled persons are gradually entering an arena, which otherwise could have been denied to them. In reality, they have to encounter barriers created by both policy makers and the society.

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