Guwahati: Sensitisation on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) should be a two-way road, one for the officials and one for the people of the community, said Kausar J Hilaly, Assam commissioner of persons with disabilities at the first-of-its-kind initiative for awareness creation on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD) at Hotel Landmark in Guwahati on Monday.
The programme for awareness generation on disability and RPWD Act, 2016 is being taken up by the state social welfare department in collaboration with Shishu Sarothi, an NGO working tirelessly for rehabilitation and training of PWD. Section 39 of the PWD Act requires that awareness and sensitisation programmes are conducted, encouraged, supported and promoted to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities provided under the Act are protected.
During the press meet on Monday, a handbook on Media and Disability Inclusion was launched in the presence of Ketaki Bardalai, executive director, Shishu Sarothi; Arman Ali, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP); commissioner for PWD Hilaly and journalists Samudra Gupta Kashyap and Karma Paljor.
Paljor, director of Atvi Infotainment and editor-in-chief of EastMojo, pointed out that India has the largest population of people with disability in the world but as far as journalists are concerned, little has been done when it comes to coverage of rights of disabled and “even now most of us are uncomfortable covering the issue because we don’t know how.”
He said that media covers issues of PWD from a charity and pity mindset adding that only when there is a piece of sensational news regarding PWD, the media jumps to cover it.
Kashyap added, “We all have the tendency of identifying the story only when it happens.” Further, he gave a succinct drawing of how media can take up “stories” around the different provisions of the RPWD Act, 2016.
Speaking on the issue, Hilaly clarified, “I am not the government, I am the watchdog for the Act, as much as you a watchdog about whether the implementation of the Act is happening or not.”
He also noted about discrepancies within government department where different benchmarks disability levels have been set, hindering the passing on of benefits to PWD.
Meanwhile, Ali thanked the media fraternity for support in taking up disability concerns. He reiterated that disability is a state subject and that “it is not welfare but a human rights issue”.
He spoke of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and observed that Assam has zero disabled-friendly community toilets, there are only 12 public toilets which are disabled friendly.
Speaking with EastMojo, Hilaly said, “We are going to roughly touch 3,000 people through the districts [throught the awareness programme].”
On how the programme will be executed, he said, “Shishu Sarothi is going to organise this with the help of district social welfare officers and district collectors. While we sensitise our officials about the right of the disabled, we also sensitise the persons in the community about what rights are available to PwD.”
On the functionality, Bardalai, Shishu Sarothi’s executive director, said, “The idea is to create awareness about the provisions of the law for the duty bearers and the rights-holders. People with the rights need to know what their rights are and the people who have an obligation to implement the provision of the law, the duty-bearers they need to know what they have to do.”
Meanwhile, Ali called the initiative “brilliant and a much-needed thing which is being done”. He observed that there no such campaign or awareness specific to disability. Adding that there “the idea of disability, what is disability, there is a lack of general awareness among the people”.
The speakers stressed that only with sustained focus of the media on relevant issues of people with disabilities, will there be any affirmative impact.