The Rajya Sabha recently put their seal of approval on an impending Bill, from 2014, finally turning it into a law; the Bill in question here is the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Bill, 2014.
For a country like India, which is now moving forward on the discourse of modernisation and progress, this Bill comes as a welcome step from our leaders, as it aims to provide those, who have so far been side-lined by the society for a physical or mental impediment, to become members of a more inclusive society.
The passing of the RPWD Bill, we hope, will redefine the term ‘normal’.
To get a better idea about the challenges that persons with (physical) disabilities face, how do they overcome these challenges, and lead a normal life, Team TGC, spoke with Mr Varun Jain, and Dr Harsh Omer, founding members of the Breaking Barriers, who have come together to raise awareness about physical disabilities and how can they be overcome; with their collective efforts and help from Avdhoot Ashram, they have also built the Avdhoot Ashram Neuro Rehab Service Centre, where they provide facilities for those in need of rehabilitation.
TEAM TGC: On a daily basis, what are the kind of difficulties that you face as a person with disabilities?
Varun Jain: Well, Rishikesh is not a very accessible city. Difficulty arises especially when I visit the market, in particular shops, as they do not have ramps, but stairs, which are difficult for me to access.
Apart from that, even on the roads, it is difficult to cross or move around as people are not sensitised towards those with disabilities.
Public transportation here is not accessible either. I have to use my own car to go anywhere that I want to.
TEAM TGC: How important do you think the implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2014, is in India, taking into account that the country’s population in general may not to be sensitised towards persons with disabilities?
Varun Jain: One of the good things about this Bill is that it has included several different disabilities within its realm, which makes it more inclusive.
No two disabilities are the same, thus they cannot be compared. There are various kinds, and varying degrees of disabilities that people deal with.
Take my example, I maybe wheelchair bound, but that doesn’t simply make me physically impaired; a spinal cord injury can impair a person in many different ways.
So, the whole point of this bill, I feel, is to make a person with disabilities feel comfortable within a particular environment.
Dr Harsh Omer: Until and unless we don’t make the effort to make people aware of what the different kinds of disabilities are, and what it requires to make those with disabilities comfortable within the society, within our city, we will not be able to make the society more inclusive and accepting towards people with disabilities.
This Bill will be very beneficial, of course. But the benefits and drawbacks will only be evident once we implement it ourselves, and really test it out.
However, the fact that it includes a wide range of disabilities, for example, acid attack victims have also been included into the bill, makes it inclusive, and on the surface a great initiative.
TEAM TGC: What kind of an impact will this Bill have in a city like Rishikesh?
Dr Harsh Omer: It all depends on the initiative that every individual takes. Take our centre for example; it has been made fully equipped and accessible for people with different kinds of disabilities. We can look after their health, as well as provide them jobs. We can, possibly, provide them with a better future.
For us, we do not take into consideration how big or small Rishikesh might be, whether it can provide accessibilities for disabled people; we look at what we can do as individuals for those who need our assistance.
Furthermore, I feel like in the last 3 years, people have become more aware and accepting towards the whole idea of disabilities, in general. Now, new constructions are being made disabled friendly.
Even in Rishikesh, Rama Palace, and Triveni Ghat, with Varun’s help and perseverance, have been made accessible for people with disabilities. So, Varun is a great example of an individual taking an initiative; if that is the case, then the Bill will be effective regardless of the city it is being implemented in.
Varun Jain: The idea is to create an inclusive environment so that no one feels left out or isolated, everyone is treated the alike and there are no barriers.
This is exactly what we are trying to do in Rishikesh, by making the city more accessible, as well as changing people’s mindset.
We also try to change the mindset of those with disabilities; make them understand and realise that there is a life even after disability.
To do that, we have formed a group by the name of Breaking Barriers, where people with disabilities get together, go out to have an enjoyable time, and come to terms with the fact that your disability should not stop from doing what you want to do.
Dr Harsh Omer: Initially, when we started out, the basic idea was just to get to know the total number of disabled (physically) people in Rishikesh; at that point in time, Varun was the only person I knew. But since the time of the group’s inception, we at least know 15 more people, who have now become a part of our group.
Initially, when we they found out about us, and vice versa, all of these people were house bound, and had not stepped out in years, for the fear that the world outside would not be inclusive or accepting, or that their disabilities would restrict them in one way or another.
But now, things are different, and they’re better; we could not be happier about the progress that we’ve made as a group; it’s a great achievement for us as a group because people are now coming up to us and want to be an active part of Breaking Barriers.
Now, we are planning a get together for the new year, so the group can get a chance to interact, and learn from each other. Interacting with others who face similar difficulties has helped the entire group a lot. When we had started out, Varun was the only who could drive, today, all our 15 members are able to drive their own vehicle, which is a great achievement.
Varun Jain: Another achievement for our group was when six people, including me, participated in the Uttarakhand Paralympics. There’s a world of difference between our group members then and now; they’re role models now. They’re self-confident, independent individuals, who are doing really well for themselves. All they needed was a push.
TEAM TGC: In terms of bringing this facility up, were there any challenges which you faced?
Varun Jain: Our biggest challenge was trying to convince the people at this ashram that there was a need for a rehabilitation for the physically impaired.
Dr Harsh Omer: Something like this only exists in bigger cities, so trying to convince the ashram that a facility like this was required in Rishikesh was a huge roadblock which we had to overcome.
At this point, one of the patients at the facility, a young child suffering from Cerebral Palsy, walked into the interview room.
*The child’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
Look at Sagar* here; he suffers from Cerebral Palsy (CP), and could not use his left hand or leg. But because of the rehabilitation facilities which we have been able to provide, his condition has improved, and he can now use his left arm and leg. He can hold things with his left hand and walk properly as well.
Varun Jain: We get a lot of people with CP, and they’re perfectly fine; they can go to a normal school, all they need is the right kind of treatment to help them get better.
If their treatment is started at an early age, it can help children with CP overcome their challenges and lead a more normal life.
TEAM TGC: How do the facilities here compare to those in bigger cities?
Dr Harsh Omer: Of course, we cannot provide the same facilities as are available in bigger cities as sometimes investment costs are extremely high; however, we do plan on further improving our facilities as and when the number of patients at our facility increases.
The second challenge in terms of facilities which we regularly face here is a lack of qualified staff; if we give out an ad for a skilled physiotherapist, the biggest restriction for an applicant is that the job is in Rishikesh, whereas they would be more interested in settling in bigger cities.
Space and education/awareness are the other drawbacks which we face.
Facilities in bigger cities are more well-known and people in smaller towns and cities can access such facilities. However, for people to find out about such a facility in Rishikesh is extremely difficult.
Our main goal is to reach out to the larger population of Uttarakhand, and we do get people coming in from other parts of the state; but they have their own set of challenges, like, a shortage of finances, a lack of stay options, and the like.
People in bigger cities have access to education, and better access to the internet; in smaller places, getting access to the internet is a challenge in itself, and even if people manage to get access, it is, unfortunately limited.
We are hopeful that things will improve for this facility, as we aim to reach out to people not only from Rishikesh, but also from Dehradun, Haridwar, and Roorkee.
Varun Jain: We are providing great facilities here in terms of infrastructure as well as rehabilitation services, and such a facility is not even available in Dehradun.
The biggest problem there is a lack of good doctors. For us, fortunately, we have good doctors and physiotherapists.