No country for the disabled
A 26-year-old electrical engineer is forced to hide his disability, for fear of losing his job. His current employer is unaware that he uses an artificial limb.
The article was published in New Indian Express on December 1, 2016. Nirmita Narasimhan was quoted.
‘I hide my disability to keep my job’
Sameer (name changed) had applied for a job in a well-known company about four months ago. He had informed the HR of the company that he had lost his left leg, in a road accident, and wears an artificial limb. The company did not have a problem with it, at least not until they sent him an offer letter with a joining date.
“I was called for interviews and they selected me for the job,” he says. “I got the offer letter with a joining date and resigned from my previous company after getting the letter. But when the doctor gave my medical certificate for company insurance, they changed their mind. The certificate mentioned that I am physically fit and capable of doing the job but added that I wear an artificial limb. After that, they simply refused to proceed with the offer.”
He also received a written explanation that he is not being considered for the job because he uses an artificial limb. “I have five years of experience. When I contacted them again saying that they cannot deny the job after offering me the letter, they said they have ‘sympathy’ for me. When I insisted that the job will be great for my career, they said they will get back to me in two to three days but I didn’t hear from them again,” he says.
Sameer had to request his previous company to ignore his resignation letter and keep him. Fortunately, they agreed. He adds, “I kept looking for better job opportunities. I even thought of starting a business of my own but did not have enough funds. I am the only earning member in my family. My father passed away sometime ago. My mother and two younger brothers are dependent on me.”
Except for a few of his seniors, no one in his current organisation knows of his disability. He says, “Only a few seniors know because I told them about it. It is not easy to make out that I am using an artificial limb. I can walk fine, do all the chores like an able person. Even when someone comes asking what’s wrong with my leg as I limp a little, I tell them that I had an injury.”
Sameer has completed B Tech and did a diploma in electrical engineering. He adds, “None of my friends whom I lived with, during my graduation and diploma course, know that I use an artificial limb. Until I detach the limb in front of someone, no one gets to know.”
He lost his left leg in an accident when he was three. He says, “I can walk on any terrain, ride bikes and also play badminton for two to three hours without any problem. I am on no medication or therapy. I tried to convince the employers saying all this, but it came to naught.”
Provisions for disabled in law
The Persons with Disability Act 1995 states that the appropriate governments and local authorities shall by notification formulate schemes for ensuring employment of persons with disabilities, and such schemes may provide for the training and welfare of persons with disabilities; the relaxation of upper age limit; regulating the employment; health and safety measures and creation of a non-handicapping environment in places where persons with disabilities are employed; the manner in which and the person by whom the cost of operating the schemes is to be defrayed; and constituting the authority responsible for the administration of the scheme.
The non-discrimination chapter of the Act also states that no promotion shall be denied to a person merely on the grounds of his disability.
Disabled kid? No admission
Mita Sarkar, a mother of a six-year-old girl who has cerebral palsy (CP) had to approach around ten private schools for her daughter’s admission. She heard the same response from every school she approached: “Education is for all and we accept all children, but we are not equipped to school your child”.
Mita says, “When Monali was seven months old, she had a traumatic brain injury. She lost more than half of her brain cells. Now her condition is similar to kids with cerebral palsy.” She has right side hemiparesis - a weakness in the right side of the body. She has difficulties with motor coordination, walking, speech and attention span.
“But according to her doctors, psychologist and therapists, her intelligence level is good and she can continue a regular school curriculum with some facilitation and acceptance from the schools, teachers and peers,” says the mother.
With her tireless pursuit to seek admission for her daughter, Mita finally struck gold with a private school. Monali is currently in LKG.
Though the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act 1995 and Right to Education states that children with disabilities have equal rights to education and can be admitted in a normal schools, many schools seem to make an excuse that they do not have enough manpower and resources for admitting children with special needs.
The PWD Act recognises CP as a disability.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, a programme started by the government for universalisation of elementary education also states that equity, to mean not only equal opportunity, but also creation of conditions in which the disadvantaged sections of the society - children of SC, ST, Muslim minority, landless agricultural workers and children with special needs, etc. - can avail of the opportunity. Access, not to be confined to ensuring that a school becomes accessible to all children within specified distance but implies an understanding of the educational needs and predicament of the traditionally excluded categories - the SC, ST and others sections of the most disadvantaged groups, the Muslim minority, girls in general, and children with special needs.
Nirmita Narasimhan, Policy Director of the Disability Access vertical of Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), says, “Inclusive education is a good model, provided there are good staffs and resources available. The staff should get equal pay as that of other teachers. It is a good method to sensitise normal children about the disability issue as well.”
Separate Wing for Disabled Children
Advocate C V Sudhindra believes the Act that allows inclusive education may not be a practical proposition. He explains, “Children with disability will find it difficult to adjust in a classroom with abled children. It could be demoralising for them. They would mingle with abled children and understand what skills they are deprived of. It is a burden on the institution to have facilities for special children. The needs for every disability vary. You need have not just a trained teacher but also other facilities like toilets. It affects the normal functioning of a school.”
He adds a separate school is ideal for them. He cites an example, “You cannot accommodate people with disabilities in the Olympic competition. That is why we have Paralympic competition. The Act should be in tune with reality and should not affect the regular affairs of the people.”