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mid-day editorial: Enable the disabled, don't patronise them

As a society, we still have a long way to go before we can claim to be truly inclusive when it comes to people with disabilities. Far from being disabled-friendly, many of our facilities and laws only serve to restrict those who are differently abled. But the good news is, one such draconian rule has finally been revoked — On June 7, a Government Resolution was passed to allow disabled persons to travel alone without an escort if they wish to do so.

This decision came just days after a Mumbaikar was slapped with a Rs 800 fine just because he was travelling in a train without an escort. In a front-page report yesterday, this paper highlighted the distressing experience 45-year-old Victor Rodrigues had with the Konkan Railway. Victor walks with a crutch, but does not depend on anyone for his day-to-day affairs. Even though Victor seemed perfectly independent, the ticket checker (TC) threw the rulebook at him and fined him for travelling without an escort and breaking an outdated railways regulation. Thankfully, this rule has now been revoked.

However, as a society, we need to rethink the way we perceive and treat the disabled. There is a fine line between patronising and truly helping. Let us give the differently-abled the freedom they need to negotiate the rocky terrain of life. There is certainly a strong case for upping the public infrastructure to make this a more disabled-friendly city. Greater access is one way to redress the imbalance in opportunities and create more equal space in our cities. New buildings must be also held accountable if they fail to incorporate disabled-friendly facilities.

Independence is important to establish a sense of pride and fulfillment, so let’s step away when not needed, and offer help when it is required. Sensitivity training in schools can help. Let us be more empathetic but ensure we do not dent their pride with thoughtlessness.

In this politically correct age, there is great stress on using the correct or acceptable term for the disabled. Yet, as a blind person once said, it is not the term that is important, but the treatment.

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