With the pandemic taking hold of the country for the third time in a row, the disabled population has become more disadvantaged than before. The first two waves of Covid 19 have brought out the crude shades of ableism present in society. Ableism hints at the discrimination in favour of the able bodied people. Failing to include elevators and ramps in public buildings is a typical example of the same and often gets understood as an unnecessary expenditure. But for many with movement difficulties, it is a question of the ability to manage themselves, rather a key to dissolving their ‘disability’. Newsrooms with sign language anchoring are thus as much about making the public domain more inclusive as it is about making many more abled.

With over two crore of the population being disabled, as per the census of 2011 (censusIndia gov. in), revisiting whether the main strokes evolved to contain the pandemic spread, such as social distancing and masking up were enough inclusive is important. Amiya, a fifteen year old with hearing difficulties shared that “I am very anxious about being part of social circles anymore. Reading lips helped a lot in being part of group conversations earlier, which would no longer be possible with masks.” “Social distancing isn’t easy to follow. Though I have nearly 50% vision impairment, with the assistance of people around, I have found it manageable to set forth on my own. People help while crossing, using toilets, and so on. I fear that would be difficult hereafter as people would want to maintain a distance always, out of Covid fear.” said Parvathy, currently pursuing her civil service aspirations.  

Rights of the Disabled had been a major concern since the onset of the pandemic, and both national and international agencies have voiced this. WHO have declared the disabled people as falling under the high risk groups, and have urged to ensure that people with disability always have access to health-care services and public health information they require. At the national level, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had worked out an Advisory on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities in the context of COVID 19.

The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had released guidelines to states & Union Territories towards the protection of persons with disabilities, within a few days of the declaration of nation-wide lockdown amidst the first wave. Access to health care, livelihood, education and disbursement of pensions and rations have been among the major concerns which fell under it. But unfortunately reports that surfaced along the past two years have brought out cases of  blatant violation of such guidelines.

Lack of specific support mechanisms, failure of existing systems, and the marginal visibility of the difficulties of the disabled have been among the major hindrances that deprived them of proper backing. Reports reveal that for many of the persons with psychosocial disabilities in India, financial support during the pandemic had been unreliable and sometimes even non-existent. (Riddhi Dastidar, Scroll.in)

There have been instances where the private Insurance Companies rejected applications of people with disabilities, citing them as having previous “illness”, despite government guidelines on the same. (Anoo Bhuyan, Indiaspend, With vaccines being the key to enter the world of new normal, low vaccination rates among the disabled is also a cause of concern. Though India has over 26.8 million differently abled population, only 4,108 had been double vaccinated as on December 2021. (07/12/21, thehindu)

Latest of all, serious concerns have been raised over Budget 2022, for failing to cater to the needs of the disabled efficiently. Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has pointed out some of the major loopholes in the budget allocation for the disabled. Funds assigned for the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) have been drastically reduced from Rs 50 crore last year to a mere 0.010 crore this time.

The funds allocated to National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation, has been cut from Rs 41 crores in the 2019-20 budget to a mere 0.01 crore last time. This has remained the same, this year too. As NHFDC provides loans to small businesses set up by disabled people, this is deplorable. The center has also refused to enhance the disability pension which has remained at a constant Rs 300. With unemployment and disinvestments touching soaring heights, what exactly is the take of the government in supporting the disabled hangs around as a question mark.

As Covid repeats in successive waves asserting itself as a reality to which the rest of the world has to adjust with, shadows have been spelt over the long saga of struggles waged by the disabled in making the spaces more inclusive. Beyond the frequent reminiscing of ‘dharma’ chords skulled out of ancient scriptures and overrated belief in the infallibility of private capital, it is upon the government to answer how exactly they expect to cater to the needs of the public, especially of its most vulnerable sections. For such a failure at this juncture isn’t a failure affordable.


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