Unveiling The Ability in Disability

Disability is a complex phenomenon. Disability can be either physical or mental. It can be congenital or acquired later in life. Either way, it makes it very difficult for the person to achieve his/her full potential. According to the recent disability census in India (2018) which was conducted by the NSO  wing of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, it is estimated that of the 26 million people  in India 2.2% are disabled.[1]

We do not see that many disabled people in the general population. This implies they live out their lives hidden from the social gaze. There is a need to spread awareness about such people to incorporate them into the mainstream society and also enable them to be self-sufficient. Awareness should be there both within the government and society.


There are a myriad of ways in which disability has been defined and this by itself has led to confusion. According to WHO “It is an umbrella term covering impairment, activity limitation and participation restriction.”[2]

According to The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016:[3]

“Person with a disability means a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, which hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others.” We often hear the Government using the term ‘Benchmark disability’. Under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 benchmark disability refers to having at least 40% disability of any type.

History Of Disability Right Movement

The disability rights movement ensures the disabled will have equal rights in society. Basic needs such as employment, education and housing are provided. The history of the Disability Right Movement can be traced through the ages. In the 1800s, people with disabilities were considered to be unfit and unable to contribute to society.[4]The movement began in earnest in the western world after the World War when there were causalities of war and acquired disabilities. In such countries, there was a high demand for the formation of the Disability Rights Movement. It is also to be remembered that during this period, Adolf Hitler considered disabled persons as of no economic use and he killed many. The Right Movements have mostly come from the people with disabilities themselves. It was during the 1980s that the demand for disability rights movement came up. Many NGOs started operating in the disabled sector. Most of them were started by disabled themselves or their relatives.[5]    

Disability Rights Movement In India

Disability Rights Movement in India spans four decades. Indians who were superstitious thought a person is disabled as a result of his/ her previous sins. This fake belief leads to various issues in India. Also providing support to disabled was seen as charity rather than providing legitimate rights. Family members of the disabled feel burdened when they are looking after such people. Mostly they were abandoned. During that period Disabled persons did not have the right to vote also.

 In the 1970s when the initial gatherings happened and the ’80s when organisations started coming up, NGO’s were also started but two facts are interesting enough to be noted here. NGO’s were started by the Person with Disability himself or herself or their relative and also usually they took care of only one type of disability spurning others. Rehabilitation Council was set up in India in 1986 to standardize training policies and programs for rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. Baba Amte, a renowned social activist, dedicated his whole life in supporting and empowering people suffering from leprosy. He was the person who motivated many people to be part of the Disability Rights Movement[6]

UN considered 1982-1993 as the decade of Disabled Persons[7].The 1990s brought drastic changes in the disability sector. When the disabled people started rising in protests the government of India passed the Persons with Disabilities Act (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act) 1995. Hence this year is considered the benchmark year for Persons with Disability in India. This act led to a 3 per cent reservation of all government jobs.  According to this Act, only those who have 40 % or more disability is entitled to such a benefit. Many people belong to the borderline category who will not get reserved jobs because we are following this Act. There must be a provision to categorize each type of disability separately and also individualize the cases.

Recent schemes and limitations

The period after 2005 is also known as New Millennium for disabled persons. UN had a Convention on Rights of persons with disabilities in 2006. The Disability Bill was passed in 2012. Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 replaced the existing Persons with Disabilities Bill (Equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation). It is heartening to note that the committee who prepared the bill had members who were disabled. It is the disability legislation passed by the Indian Parliament to fulfil its obligation to the United Nations Convention on Right with Persons with Disability. This Amendment has increased the types of disabilities covered from seven to twenty-one. It has added dwarfism, acid attack victims and Parkinson’s disease patients. Persons with benchmark disabilities has also been defined.[8]

There are many schemes which assist to disabled in India. One of them is Assistance to Disabled for Purchase/Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP) Scheme. It assists the needy disabled persons in procuring manufactured, modern appliances to enhance their economic potential. This scheme is implemented through NGOs. [9]

Though the government is doing many landmark gestures for the upliftment of Persons with Disability, often they are not enough. Inclusiveness does not come as easily in Private institutions, in jobs where there is the visibility of the person, in schools, higher education institutions. The need for Disabled friendly spaces is also yet to catch up in the public area and transport.

Social Perspective

 The attitude of society matters a lot. Development of a disabled person matters on how well he or she is treated or motivated. Attitude can create or remove barriers for the disabled. In society, they are often stared at and ridiculed. Anything different from the expected “Normal” creates discontent in the society The society thinks that physically challenged people would not be able to contribute to society. They may be seen as leeches of the social society schemes especially in countries where this system provides many things free to the Disabled. The family and society can consider them as a liability and reject them. The need to educate them and provide even minor adjustments for their well-being may not be tolerated. While casteism or racism are catchwords because of the voting power of these individuals, politicians remain largely silent of the group who cannot speak for themselves. Proper means of education, public spaces and facilities which are disabled friendly and an attitude change will go a long way in making the disabled shine through.[10]

Famous Disabled Personalities

Most of the disabled who have made their mark in history have done it despite being disabled and by their merit and struggle.  For example, from Beethoven to our own Srikanth Bolla who is visually impaired and now founder of Bollant Industries.

Srikanth Bolla went through many difficult phases. He was born in Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh. His family was very poor but his parents wanted to educate him and he was very bright. But he was denied admission in ‘Indian Institute of Technology ‘because of his disability. But this did not stop him. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There he was the first international blind student. He also became a leading member of Lead India 2020 which was started by our beloved former President of India Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam.[11]

Social Efforts

The life of a Disabled is different from birth onwards and there is no glossing over the fact that the family and individual has to learn to give in to too many jibes and irrelevant remarks because of something which is not their fault. The increase in scientific discoveries has meant that many of the previously underdiagnosed conditions can be detected before birth. Genetic counselling and even medical termination of Pregnancy can be made available. This raises ethical questions like the search for the Designer Baby.


India has a large number of disabled people There has been a growing awareness of the needs of persons with Disabilities. They too have enough potential to contribute to the development of society. The problems of unemployment and poverty faced by disabled must be eradicated. The issue of accessibility always correlates with literacy levels and economic development of the disabled person. Attitudinal changes should be brought by making the society aware of the problems faced by the disabled and also make them understand that there is no classification as normal and disabled people. All are equal in society. A culture of belonging should be brought out. The public, in general, may be educated to take the right action and implement human rights and fundamental freedom of persons with disability. The disability act is a breath of fresh air. But there is a need for more changes in social policies. More inclusive campuses, adoption of the human right approach to disability and an increase in rehabilitation approach will shine new light on the world of the Disabled.[12]

It Is High Time That We Unveil The Ability In Disability

[1]“India’s 2.2% population suffering from disability: NSO survey for July-Dec 2018” The Economic Times (New Delhi Nov 23, 2019)

[2]WHO official website- Disabilities <https://www.who.int/topics/disabilities/en/>

[3] “Disability in India” (Vikaspedia)  <https://vikaspedia.in/social-welfare/differently-abled-welfare/disability-in-india>

[4] A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement- (ADL site) <https://www.adl.org/education/resources/backgrounders/disability-rights-movement>

[5] Disability Rights Movement- History (Wikipedia) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability_rights_movement>

[6] Martand Jha, “The History of India’s Disability Rights Movement” (The Diplomat, 21 December 2016) < https://thediplomat.com/2016/12/the-history-of-indias-disability-rights-movement/>

[7] Vikaspedia- Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment

[8] “Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (Vikaspedia) <https://vikaspedia.in/social-welfare/differently-abled-welfare/policies-and-standards/rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-act-2016>

[9] Govt of India-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, ADIP Scheme Pg:2 (The Scheme and Objectives)

[10] Umer Jan Sofi, Social Exclusion of Disabled Persons in India and attitude towards society (2011) 7

[11] Srikanth Bolla (Wikipedia) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srikanth_Bolla>

[12]Shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in – PDF on the book ‘Tools of Justice: Non-discrimination and the Indian constitution’ by Kalpana Kannabiran

Samyukta P Menon from National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi

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