The Disability question | Daily News

The Disability question

Disability is no longer an uncompromising term. Thanks to the intervention of numerous government as well as non-governmental organisations, the physical fragility has earned an official status. Sri Lanka entered a new plane of human rights by formulating a national policy on disability in 2003. Over a decade has lapsed, though not much to the satisfaction of the disability movement.

Practical issues emerge when policies translate into action. The theoretical knowledge imprinted in the policy statements do not pass down to the grassroots officials. A disabled person living in a remote hamlet off Anuradhapura cannot receive his/her entitled monthly allowance from the Grama Niladhari without much hassle. The disabled persons are led to the conviction that they are given some favouration. The local competent authorities, on the other hand, complain of lack of funds when questioned about the rights that the disabled persons are entitled to, are something the officials are not aware of.

When the two television journalists reached the northern and eastern hemisphere of this country, they had a specific goal. Their programme, telecasted over a Tamil channel, is dedicated to disabled persons who overcame the challenges of life. But they had a challenge.

Physical infirmity

The current phenomenon compels a disabled person’s family to capitalize on the physical infirmity. The arrival of a media personnel from the capital means some opportunity available for seizure. The families have enough ammunition to feed the media and receive sympathy in return. Disability comes first. Then poverty. That naturally leads to a third element, illiteracy. These three elements are the pillars of a crumbling order.

We are not an intermediary between the government and the recipients, the producer of the channel who needs to remain unidentified, says. The television programme producer has a sole aim: expose the disabled persons who have overcome the obstacles in life and thus inspire the fellow disabled persons.

Although a national policy on disability is in force in Sri Lanka at the request of the Disability Movement, the attitude towards the physical fragility is yet to change. The people with disabilities are yet to be an integral part of inclusion in society. A girl with no limbs flourished in making handiwork using her mouth. But that generates sympathy more than inspiration. And the disability is mostly accredited to a karmic force and the cluster is considered de facto apartheid.

They generate ample amount of compassion. But what they actually need is a market to suit their skills. They need aid. But the inflow of aid to Sri Lanka from foreign donors through the mediation of non-governmental organisation is also facing challenge. Sri Lanka formed a national policy on disability in 2003. With more than a decade lapsed, the country is yet to enter a sophisticated disability-friendly platform. The local organisations related to disability movement have been depending on the foreign donors which in turn converts to self-income generation projects such as horticulture and handwork.

But that should not be the destination. The disabled persons of the rural areas shall go further beyond mere projects of minor scale. The foreign donors are now sending smoke signals to the local NGOs: the funds should be allocated more sophisticated projects. Fair by the donors, the funds cannot be allocated to a stagnating industry. Most NGOs operating in Sri Lanka face a problem what most others are unaware of. Their funding is now becoming low. The funding evolved over the years only to prove that Sri Lanka has already become a country without a proper strategic plan. The donors request the NGOs to solve the country’s concerns at any cost.

The Sign Language, for instance, has been made official. The persons with hearing disabilities can now be witness to the news and current affairs, as national news is available in sign language. Yet its expansionism remains a puzzle. This was strongly felt during the election eve when the people with hearing disabilities did not have access to the would-be legislators’ opinions and statements. It finally affects their franchise right as well.

Although gone unnoticed most of the time, the people with hearing impairments are the largest group that faces most obstacles in dealing with the daily situations. The dearth of sign language teachers has led to this unwelcome shortage of sign language users on electronic media. This unfortunate phenomenon has taken a toll on the practical perspective of the inclusive education.

Disability is largely a misunderstood concept. A wheelchair, for instance, cannot be designed in the same way. The wheelchair should be brought out with the recipient’s requirement in mind.

The disability comes equipped with another unavoidable element: stigma. A lot of families come to grips with this phenomenon. When a disabled child is born, the husband and his family tends to pass it as a blame on the mother. The birth of the disabled child is considered as the fault of the mother.

Although the government’s budget has given green light to the funding for the disabled, how it breaks down has practical issues. The ‘disability’ money allocated to a Pradeshiya Sabha at times remain unused as the officials have no proper awareness of the disability-related policy. The Rs. 3,000 allowance issued per mensem to the disabled community is mostly noted as a favour instead of a right. The situation changes slowly but not steady enough.

Lesser social recognition

When the common citizens are privy to their entitlements over favouration, it makes a huge affect though at the cost of government officers at the provincial level. As more and more of the citizenry becomes aware of their rights, it enhances the workload of the pradeshiya sabhas.

When you have a disabled child, chances are more that you hardly have a life. The carers of certain child’s homes hardly apply for leave. But then the challenge of the disabled allowance is the equal distribution. A person with the spinal injury may not be entitled to the sum of Rs 3,000 because that disability is not visible.

In the workshops, it has been observed that the provincial journalists are more concerned about the disabled community than the city journalists. The city journalists have more national issues to cover, whereas most disabled people belong to rural communities where the provincial journalists roam. The city journalists are mostly highly educated whereas the provincial journalists are from lesser posh backgrounds and lesser social recognition.



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