Why Dissociate Dignity from Disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

There comes a point in life when everyone needs a bit of help. As I write this piece, I am writhing in pain. On any given day, I score myself quite high on the strength quotient when it comes to overcoming challenges, even physical discomfort. But not today. I sought professional help, acknowledging my inability to deal with the situation.

People seek support from friends, family and even total strangers at times. We all need assistance, it could be physical, emotional or financial. But despite the universal need, seeking help is often likened to a weakness. It puts the person giving help on a pedestal, patronising the one receiving it. Read more

Eye Health cannot just be about Avoidable Blindness

By Shruti Pushkarna

Gratitude. Given all that’s been happening around us in the recent times, this is one word I like to begin and end each day with. Because I truly believe, I lead a good life (well, in most parts). In fact, a lot of us do. But somehow we forget and take things for granted. Until something surprises or shocks us into believing otherwise.

When I look at news from around the country and the world, it feels depressing. Rapes, drugs, derisive politics, looting, lynching, suicides, untimely deaths, incurable illnesses. We consume all such content on a daily basis, which makes us question our belief in humanity or the intrinsic goodness in people. Read more

NHFDC: Steps towards Empowerment and Economic Rehabilitation

By Manjima Biswas

The government has come up with multiple schemes over time to safeguard the inclusion and social well-being of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in India. The provision of equal opportunities to PwDs includes empowerment through livelihood options and viable opportunities for becoming economically self-reliant. To help this stance of economic rehabilitation of PwDs, an institution for expanding concessional credit towards self-employment opportunities and vocational training, National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC) was formed in 1997, under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

 

Objective of NHFDC/NHFDC Schemes

 

Through schemes like Divyangjan Swavalamban Yojana and the Microfinance Yojana, NHFDC aims to achieve the objective of empowerment of PwDs and their inclusion in the mainstream. To secure this, financial assistance through loans is the main objective. The other broader objective is to focus on overall development, skill building and assist with funds for general/professional/technical education or training. Through Microfinance Yojana, financial assistance upto Rs 50000 can be availed by the weaker section among PwDs to help with small income-generating initiatives. The Divyangjan Swavalamban Yojana allows an upper limit of Rs 50 lakhs as loan for business initiatives that aim at the growth and betterment of PwDs in any way.

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Invisible Disabilities: Missing from any Discourse on Disability

By Shruti Pushkarna

Lately, I have found myself unwinding to reruns of old favourite TV shows (now easily available on OTT platforms). The extensive amount of work unleashed by the pandemic, both on the professional as well as home front, leaves me utterly exhausted. So I treat myself to a nightcap in the form of yesteryear soap operas.

An episode of Boston Legal, (an American legal drama series which first aired in 2004) resonated with my current stance on challenging stereotypes and perceptions, specific to disability.
Screengrabs from Boston Legal, Season 2, Episode 15 where the protagonist makes a case for a little girl who cannot smile after a car accident damaged her nerve. Read more

Sighted Confessions of a Visual-aholic

By Shruti Pushkarna

I’ve been writing this column for a little over nine months now. I have attempted to state facts, voice certain pertinent issues, identify gaps, highlight the absence of empathy and compassion towards anyone who is labeled as the ‘other’. I’ve even criticised the media for ignoring matters pertaining to persons with disabilities. So I thought it’s a good time to pause and ruminate on my own self. Point the finger inwards for a change.

Let’s rewind to 2016.

I’m a sighted person. Okay, I wear glasses but they enable me to interact fairly well with the visual environment. So technically I’m not blind. Back then, I knew almost nothing about living life with blindness. It’s safe to say I was ‘blind’ to visually impaired people’s needs, challenges, abilities, their coping mechanisms, their whole persona so to say. I simply viewed them as people with no ‘vision’. Read more

Yes! Technology can be a gamechanger for students with disabilities

By Shruti Pushkarna

Before you label this column (or the columnist) as being unnecessarily critical of everything (and everyone), let me dish out a few positive thoughts. I know I haven’t been an ardent supporter of the present-day leadership, and I’ve repeatedly highlighted the ignorance (and convenient oversight) of several stakeholders including our dear friends in the media, vis-à-vis issues faced by the disabled population. But I’m not a pessimist. If anything, I anticipate a better tomorrow.

One such promise was reflected in my recent reading of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. It left me exhilarated. Education in fact has been in the news for quite some time now. Starting with the Class X and XII results, college applications, Delhi University Open Book Examinations, and now the debate around NEET and JEE. But this new policy can be a serious gamechanger and anyone working in this space should be excited. Read more

Need to factor in Access for Disabled at the Ayodhya Ram Mandir

By Shruti Pushkarna

I have worked in television newsrooms for most part of my journalistic career. Despite several misgivings, I enjoyed the energy in that space, especially while handling major coverage like the elections, Union Budget or any special programming. The increased tabloidisation of news may have compelled me to quit, but as they say, old habits die hard. The mind is still drawn to TV channels on ‘big news days’.

August 5, 2020 was one such historic event for the country when Prime Minister Narendra Modi (and the whole jingbang) reached Ayodhya to lay the foundation stone of the Ram temple. Most TV stations started their countdown to the ‘bhavya bhoomi pujan’ a day before. Special graphics dipped in hues of yellow and orange flashed on the screens. Anchors dressed in ethnic attire welcomed the audience to this ‘sanskari saffron shindig’. Read more

Do we see an opportunity for the disabled in the new normal?

By Shruti Pushkarna

In times ridden with conflicting opinions about almost everything under the sun, I think we can safely agree that Covid-19 has changed how we interact with the environment. And I’m not just referring to the natural surroundings but also the environment where daily professional and social engagements take place.

The world is rapidly changing. And yet one thing remains the same. The intrinsic need to validate our existence. In the absence of physical interactions, we still want to be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’.

‘Visibility’ is what defines us. And visibility is what we don’t offer to the disabled population of the country. The famous proverb ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is an apt description. Their near-absence in places of employment, education and entertainment have made them non-existent to the ableist majority. Read more

Is the academic triumph of disabled students not sexy enough for the media?

By Shruti Pushkarna

CBSE Class XII results were declared earlier this week. As always news reports flowed in, citing the best performing schools and students across the country. For students and teachers who have worked hard through the year, this is their moment of glory. Top scorers hog the media limelight, sharing their tall tales of rigorous preparations.

Among the list of achievers were also Dhruv from Jalandhar who topped his district with 98.2% as well as triplets from Mangaluru, Jeevan, Jayesh and Jitesh who each scored over 90%. What sets the four of them apart from their peers is their lack of eye sight. Well only physically. Not one of them has allowed their blindness to become their defining trait. Actually what distinguishes these visually impaired students from the school-going herd, is their grit to succeed and sheer love for education.

Incidentally this is not the first time when students with disabilities have aced the result charts. Last year, Lavannya Balakrishnan and Anushka Panda topped in the special needs category. Lavannya who is hearing impaired and Anushka who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, both scored over 97% in their CBSE XII and X boards respectively. Read more

After COVID-19, Open Book Exam Emerges as the Latest Challenge for the Blind

By Shabnam Durani

The Delhi University’s (DU) decision to conduct an Open Book Examination (OBE) for those in their final year has created a sense of panic among the blind and visually impaired students. There are approximately 800 students with vision impairment studying in DU, out of which around 350 will appear for their final exams this year.

The lockdown announcement caught many of these students off guard and they rushed home to stay safe amid the coronavirus scare. Those who couldn’t travel back were stuck in their hostels or temporary accommodation without much support. Already facing difficulties at the hands of the pandemic, the varsity’s announcement made things worse.

Coming from a weak socio-economic background, the majority of visually impaired students are struggling with the new online medium of preparation and assessment, as they have limited or no access to devices (such as laptop/computer, smartphone or scanner), internet and study material. Read more