On 28th March 2012, I attended a panel presentation on disabilities
organised by the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in conjunction with
the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission. This was one of two
presentations, the other being about autism. The venue was small, but
the event was well attended.
Speakers were drawn from several disciplines, but their focus on
disability issues was the same in their presentations involving facility
accessibility, mental health, employment and education. The speakers
were Dr. Ajith Perera, a disability activist, R.S. Medagama, formerly of
the Education Ministry, Anver Dole, who advocates for employment of the
disabled and Dr. Shehan Williams, head of Department of Psychiatry at
University of Kelaniya. The moderator was Dr. Padmani Mendis, disability
I worked in America for many years, ending my career as a Director of
Social Services for a government agency. Work focused on many of the
social issues discussed at the forum. America has advanced far in
providing increased opportunities and access for disabled persons.
Christopher Teal, US Embassy Public Affairs Officer advised attendees
about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA is a good resource
to help establish similar programs in other countries. Establishing
legislation came out of awareness and enforcement of these laws was also
a necessary step. Look at www.ada.gov and you can see how it evolved. It
was not just a one-time piece of legislation, but must be kept
Here in Sri Lanka, physically disabled individuals in wheelchairs or
using walkers have limited access to many buildings and facilities
within these buildings. Regulations for construction of new or
renovation of existing buildings must begin to address the access
issues. Dr. Ajith Perera discussed the problems of access at the Forum.
In fact, he has been successful in pursuing a Supreme Court ruling for
building access on behalf of the disabled. A recent article written by
Dr. Perera and published in the Daily News on Tuesday, May 8, 2012
documents well the accessibility issues and needs of the disabled.
Disability may be temporary or permanent but can happen to anyone, at
any time. Most people know someone or know of someone who is disabled.
In fact, the author of this article is herself disabled. Disabled people
are of all ages, from different backgrounds, with different levels of
disability, and many are quite capable of contributing, at the
appropriate level, their talents and skills to development in Sri Lanka.
From what I have seen, there is a wealth of talented people here who can
work for the rights of disabled people, work with the disabled to assist
with their needs or work in employment alongside people with
Forums such as the one I attended should provide the public with
greater awareness of the needs of individuals with disabilities. I do
hope that presentations such as this one are held by different
organisations in many places in Sri Lanka to create awareness of the
issues faced by those with a disability. A greater awareness will lead
to a greater understanding of issues faced, as well as solutions to
provide disabled persons with a good quality of life. In many cases, it
is not just the disabled person who needs support, but also the many
families that include a disabled person (or in some cases with more than
one disabled person). The caregivers can often be overwhelmed by what is
Disability is just one social issue faced globally by people today.
In my opinion, modern society has an obligation to take care of less
fortunate individuals in a humane and just way. Here in Sri Lanka, I see
people who help on their own many of these individuals, but often this
is not enough. Those facing disability, illness, poverty or any of the
other social issues facing society today usually have multiple needs
that may require government assistance to adequately function in
everyday life. Government can assist in many ways with medical,
financial and social support.
I propose an annual conference on all of the current social issues
faced by the disabled with national and international experts and
advocates, relevant government ministries, non-governmental
organisations, charitable organisations, relevant business entities,
architects, academia, public, etc. An annual conference, if done right,
will have accountability. Too often, conferences have a narrow focus on
just one issue and are held with not enough follow up. Every year, the
conference should establish goals, and the following year,
implementation of those goals must be reviewed. Funding constraints in
budgets for social services, and financial accountability must be an
integral part of this conference.
The time is right for academia, perhaps the National Institute for
Social Development (NISD), as well as the Ministry of Social Services to
work together to take the lead in public advocacy for the disabled and
the disadvantaged. Their funding of an annual conference would be a good
start. More legislation is needed here in Sri Lanka, but along with that
statement goes the power of Ministries to ensure timely passage. Anyone
can make a proposal, but politicians need to advocate for passage of
reasonable legislation and must also advocate for the power of
Sri Lanka is a country with great growth potential. This time in
history is a time of inclusiveness for now and the future. People with
disabilities and other social disadvantages should share in this growth
and not be left behind. As the web site for the Ministry of Social
Services states “Our Mission is to make the disadvantaged, partners in
national development by providing conducive environment and
opportunities through policy initiatives in Social Welfare and Social
Development.” To fulfill this Mission, I advocate for regional forums
throughout the year and an annual conference to put Sri Lanka on that
positive path of inclusion.
The banning of carrying more than three passengers in a three-wheeler
should be reconsidered to allow four. It is possible to manage four
people and in most cases, a family would consists of four members.
(Father, mother and two children). If they they were to necessarily
travel in a three-wheeler, they would have to incur additional
expenditure for three to travel in one, and one to travel in another.
The ban is due to the fact that a number of three-wheeler accidents
occurred recently in which many succumbed.
Unfortunately, those particular three-wheelers carried more than
their capacity. We have seen some three-wheelers carrying more than six
passengers and of schoolchildren, nearly ten.
Such cases should be prosecuted under the traffic laws and any
repetition of same should be annulling the licence.
Actually, if the authorities have any concern of overloading they
should then focus their attention both to the private and state buses
too, for prosecution which will of course, never happen.
After all three-wheelers are the cheapest mode of transport for the
middle and lower class people.
The value of this vehicle is known only to them especially at a time
of exigency. The main cause for accidents is speeding or overtaking and
for this the police have to be vigilant to apprehend such drivers.
Recently I visited the Maharagama Cancer Hospital and was appalled at
the sight there. Talking to a few people I gathered from them that some
people believe that only bad, immoral people contract cancer and that
they deserve it. This is incorrect and therefore that concept should be
dispelled. Cancer has no good or bad discrimination. It can affect
anyone. Most people fail to realise that cancer is only a diagnosis. It
is not a death sentence.
If detected early the lives of those affected can be saved. Yet
because of the invalid belief mentioned earlier, people even fear to
hear that they have cancer. As a result, they unfortunately do not go
for treatment on time.
It is disconcerting to know that cancer is claiming more and more
lives in Sri Lanka.
The reason for this is that most people are ignorant of the disease,
about the treatment available and also of the fact that cancer can be
cured and overcome if timely detected.
I would like to very highly commend the Cancer Society's dedicated
service to the public. The Sri Lanka Cancer Society has a Cancer House
in Maharagama which can accommodate about 85 patients who are provided
with food, clothing, and a well-trained nursing staff to take care of
The Society is also involved in providing relief and rehabilitation
to patients once they go home after treatment.
The electronic media highlighted and the print media published
photographs of people cracking coconuts, some as protests and others
seeking the favour of gods. Cracking coconuts is a religious ritual
linked to Hinduism and is preformed in the belief that the ritual helps
to rid one's egotism, jealousy and lust – a laudable religious
performance surrounded by good intentions.
However, certain misguided people perform the ritual for selfish
ends; for obtaining favours from ‘gods’ to advance personal
materialistic gain, to ensure victory over enemies and have those who
have offended, punished. That therefore is misuse of the ritual, which
offends the Hindu religion.
The coconut cracking ritual is alien to Buddhism and has no place in
the Buddha's teachings. But certain Buddhists resort to the ritual and
certain temples have taken to ‘business’ using the ritual, providing a
shrine room for a ‘god’ and a place for coconut cracking with lay
Kapuwas taking the misguided for a ride.
The Maha Sangha and Buddhist organisations should educate the
misguided Buddhists in regard to the true meaning of the performance of
the Hindu ritual.
'Switch off a bulb and help save power' is the appeal today. It would
be correct to say that every household in Sri Lanka today is doing its
best to reduce its consumption of electricity and consequently, the
electricity bill. However, the biggest culprits as we see are those who
do not switch-off the road lights which continue to burn even during the
day and in some areas, even on holidays for over 24 hours. The blame for
this should fall on the local authorities. I would request the
authorities to please ensure that the road lights are switched off
everyday by 5.30 am.
Rajapaksa Mawatha and Dhammarama Mawatha in Karaputugala,
Kamburupitiya is in a very dilapidated condition. They are full of pot
holes and it is impossible for motor vehicles to travel on. The
residents of the area urge the Kamburupitiya PS to repair these two
roads urgently and make them motorable.