Policy for the Differently- Abled

Policy for the Differently- Abled

Mehbooba Mufti, while chairing a joint meeting of officers of Social Welfare Department and representatives of the physically challenged persons has stated that, ‘time has come when the societal attitude about persons with disabilities needs to be changed and an atmosphere based on equal opportunities and challenges be created for them so that they can compete on a level playing field. She added that, ‘the Government has decided to start the process of deconstructing the negative thinking about these persons and many big steps are being conceived which would give such persons a major relief’’. This is a good initiative. However, the initiative suffers from lacunae-from discursive, policy and legal perspectives. Discursively, the labels, ‘physically challenged’ and/or ‘disabled’ carry negative and debilitating connotations: they mean and imply that the person or persons who are differently-abled suffer from some incapacitating problem that prevents their fuller participation in society. The first step towards capacity building of the differently-abled must be to change the existing and conventional label from ‘disabled’ to ‘differently- abled’. This has legal implications. Usually or often times, qualifying for being ‘disabled’ allowed a person to qualify for state benefits (very small and paltry in this part of the world). However, mere economic welfare cannot and should not be the goal of either those at the helm of affairs or the different-abled. What should be the end goal is to render the differently-abled to be functional members of society which ensures not only their participation in society but also brings their innate talents to the fore. Here, public policy becomes pertinent. Public policy towards the differently-abled persons must be reoriented and directed towards their fuller participation in society and other fields. One component of this policy could be a top down approach of according the differently- abled opportunities wherein they can flourish. The nature of these opportunities could be attempts to not to view their differently-able feature as a ‘disability’. Concrete as well as less tangible but nonetheless important policies must be identified and then implemented to accord an equal platform and set of equal opportunities to the differently-abled. In short, legally, it must be prohibited to call or label them as ‘disabled’. In terms of policy, an environment must be created wherein the differently-abled must not feel different. And socially, there must be no stigmas attached to being differently abled. The challenge is multifold and the onus lies on us all to bring about a condition and a mileu wherein the differently-abled, feel and live like everyone else. Mere policy intent or tinkering at the edges will not suffice. The challenge is special and it is incumbent on all to devise a special solution. Both the differently-abled and society will be better off for this.

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