The commemoration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2012, provides an opportunity to address the exclusion of persons with disabilities by focusing on promoting accessibility and removing all types of barriers in society. It also serves as a reminder that disabled persons are to be treated with respect and fairness like all other citizens of the world who have the right to live their aspirations.
Over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Persons with disabilities, “the world’s largest minority”, often face barriers to participation in all aspects of society. Barriers can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment or to information and communications technology (ICT), or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination. The result is that persons with disabilities do not have equal access to society or services, including education, employment, health care, transportation, political participation or justice.
Evidence and experience shows that when barriers to their inclusion are removed and persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in societal life, their entire community benefits. Barriers faced by persons with disabilities are, therefore, a detriment to society as a whole, and accessibility is necessary to achieve progress and development for all.
My personal inspiration comes from Bhagat Puran Singh ji, who in the early 20th century fought against discrimination of disabled people in India. In a society where non-abled people were declared outcasts and no welfare system was in place to take care of them, Bhagat Puran Singh ji dedicated his life in serving these abandoned forlorn people and set up Pingalwara, a home for the destitute. Today Pingalwara continues the work started by Bhagat ji, by running a shelter for disabled people and a school for intellectually disabled children all over India.
It is not easily possible to sum up a multi-dimensional institution that Bhagat Puran Singh surely was but his shining example will continue to serve as a model for generations to come. And today on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, may it remind us all of the barriers which yet still need be knocked down so that people with disabilities can lead a respectful and empowering life.