Activists and advocates of the disability movement in India came together on Thursday to take stock of the collective will to bring disability to the centre of social and economic development, employment, governance and human rights. World over and in India, leaders, policy experts, development practitioners and employers are being asked to take note of the urgent need to provide equal and fair opportunities. To celebrate this momentum, VSO India and its partners announced the Equa-thon, a unique run where people with and without disabilities will run together to promote the value of inclusion and spirit of active citizenship.
Speaking at the occasion, Ms Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust for Persons with Disabilities said “We must remember that disability is not just a social welfare subject. It is a way of life that impacts all of us in one way or the other. For too long we have treated people with disabilities as a section of population, as an excluded lot who are destined to lead separate lives. Through proper and empowering legislation, commitment to universal access and above all a shift in our discriminatory attitudes, we must relentlessly strive towards inclusion and participation of all.”
Mr Praveen Kumar. G, Country Lead, VSO India pointed out that “Despite the recent limelight on disability issues, the movement and awareness about disability are still in its nascent stages. Exclusion of people with disabilities (PwD) is at the heart of poverty. VSO India believes that the 70 million persons with disabilities living in India are an untapped and neglected resource. We need to invest in them with careful thought and innovation.”
While providing tips to the audience on the best ways to get ready for the run, Major DP Singh, Kargil war survivor and amputee marathon runner described disability as a “challenge like any other. But the state and the society must play an important role in ensuring that obstacles to access and opportunities do not stand in the way of achievement for us. I sincerely hope that this run will draw attention towards a cause and people that have been excluded from our everyday concerns. I hope when thousands of us run together on Sunday morning for an equal and barrier free world, disability will come closer to people’s thoughts.”
Since accessibility is a key factor in enabling inclusion, a set of design guidelines were released at the event. Authored by Anjlee Agarwal of Samarthyam, VSO India’s partner organisation, these guidelines are blueprints for governments, organisations and planners to ensure a barrier free world. From schools, urban transit systems, hotels and hospitals to anganwadis in villages, these documents provide toolkits and Universal Design templates.
The panel also deliberated on the Disability Bill, slated to be tabled at the Parliament in the upcoming session. A welcome and timely piece of legislation, those speaking at the event, stressed the need for further refinement of the draft. In its current form, they fear, the Bill could fall short of ensuring rights for all.
Delhi has shown overwhelming support for the Equa-thon with more than 4000 people registering for it. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s support to the mobilisation drive helped spread the word at more than ten metro stations. On the morning of Sunday, 9th February at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi, people from all walks of life including school children, professionals, sports persons, celebrities, government officials, youth, corporates, civil society groups, will participate in 1.75 - 5.25 km runs. Supported by UK AID , this initiative hopes to strengthen the rights based campaign on disability in India. Mr Anup Soni, actor, Ms Lise Grande, the UN Resident Coordinator of India, Ms Stuti Kackar, Secretary, Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India will be present to provide valued motivation to the participants.
Persons with disabilities remain one of the most excluded groups across all platforms of participation. The first ever world report on disability published jointly by WHO and World Bank in 2011, estimates that about 15% of the world’s population are disabled. In India, the Planning Commission (in the XI Five Year Plan) recognizes 5% of the population to be disabled.
About VSO India Trust:
VSO India is a not-for-profit organisation committed to engaging with issues of poverty and social exclusion. VSO India believes in the strength of the individual as an important element of change and encourages the spirit of volunteerism as a means to take forward development goals in areas of health, education, livelihood and disability. The organisation focuses on marginalised communities like dalits, tribals, women, Muslims and people with disabilities and aims at empowering these communities to overcome issues of exclusion and access. VSO India is currently present in seven states and aim to spread out over ten states by 2017.
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