My learning of disability issues

Last week I was given an opportunity by Teach for India, Bangalore to share on disability, in their Darbar. The darbar is a space, open and safe, for sharing views, insights and perspectives, on a wide range of topics with the audience, held once every two weeks. This Darbar had speakers sharing their perspective on the Right of Education Act, future of education, dance as a medium to learn more about oneself and a hands on, activity based session on the meditative art of Mandala painting. Pictured  here is a photo of my attempt at the Mandala art painting (not complete yet!).



The image is of a balck colored square piece, which has yellow, red, blue and green dots, arranged to eventually form Mandala pattern.
My attempt at Mandala dot painting

When I was asked to speak on disability, I was a bit unclear of what I wanted to share the most. Since I consider myself a student of disability, I realize there is so much more for me to learn and so much which I wanted to share. What is it that I wanted to discuss in these 10 minutes?

As I look back in the past, when I had started working in the disability sector, I had no previous exposure to issues related to rights of people with disabilities. I decided that best would be to share what are the learning and experiences I had gained from working in this sector and throughout my Fellowship while reading on education and disability.

The three stories which had a great impact on me and were an eye-opener are of three individuals whom I had the opportunity to interact with, and whose lives were impacted by the fact that they themselves or someone close to them was a person with disability.

First story is of a young man, who went to the United States and studied communications, with the dream of becoming a journalist. Once he returned to India, his dreams were shattered because he was a wheelchair user. No one could imagine a journalist on a wheelchair.

Second story is of another young man, who was pursuing his MBA from one of the top most management colleges in India. During the placements, he was interested in working for a company and was able to clear all the preliminary rounds of the selection process. But when he reached the face to face interview round, his application was rejected because he was Blind.

Third story is of a young woman who as a child was not able to go on family vacations or holidays with her parents anywhere in India, because both her parents are persons with disabilities (wheelchair user and blind). They had to face multiple barriers whenever they tried to venture out.

In all these stories, however, people have disabilities which are somewhat ‘visible’. There are disabilities which are not always visible like being Deaf or a person with mental illness. So what are the different disabilities? The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, (RPWD, 2016) recognizes 21 disabilities. This is a landmark because 21 disabilities are now under the fold of the new legislation, while the earlier law recognized only 7.

The 21 disabilities under the RPWD, 2016 are as follows:

  1. Blindness
  2. Low-vision
  3. Leprosy Cured persons
  4. Hearing impairment (Deaf and hard of hearing)
  5. Locomotor Disability
  6. Dwarfism
  7. Intellectual Disability
  8. Mental Illness
  9. Autism Spectrum Disorder
  10. Cerebral Palsy
  11. Muscular Dystrophy
  12. Chronic Neurological conditions
  13. Specific Learning Disabilities
  14. Multiple Sclerosis
  15. Speech and Language disability
  16. Thalassemia
  17. Hemophilia
  18. Sickle Cell Disease
  19. Multiple Disabilities including deaf-blindness
  20. Acid Attack Victim
  21. Parkinson’s Disease





The image is of the author, sitting on the floor and wearing a yellow top. The author appears to be speaking.
Sharing my experiences during the darbar.


The act has delineated the number of disabilities, but who are these people with disabilities?

In our daily day to day lives we do not come across people who have disabilities regularly. I learnt that as per Census of India 2011, around 2.21% of the total Indian population is disabled i.e. approximately 2.68 crore people. Out of this population with disabilities, 20.42 lakhs are children in the age group of 0-6 years and 46.2 lakhs are in the age group of 10-19 years. The numbers are proof, that persons with disabilities constitute a substantial percentage of the Indian population.

As is evident from the stories I shared, people with disabilities have to face multiple structural and attitudinal barriers. Stigma, discrimination, charity inspired behaviour is present in interaction with or about people with disabilities. Over the years, it became clear to me that disability is not just a medical or health issue, but also a social one.The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), explains the same when it mentions that, ‘persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society in equal basis with others. Thus, emphasizing that the barriers impact the quality of life which people with disabilities can lead.

UNCRPD is a vital document in the disability discourse as it focuses on persons with disabilities being ‘human’ and their ‘human rights’. India became a signatory to the UNCRPD, in 2007, i.e. more than a decade ago!

One component of the UNCRPD, which as per my understanding is an important tool for promoting inclusion, is ‘Reasonable accommodation’. Reasonable accommodation means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For students with disabilities, reasonable accommodation can mean but is not limited to provision of learning aids and assistive technology, sign language or alternative means of communication, specially designed furniture, and accessible study materials.

According to a report on inclusive education, the percentage of out of school children with disabilities is a striking 28.23% followed by out of school children who are Muslim and Scheduled Tribes. And out of the 28.23%, 44.13% is constituted of children with multiple disabilities, and 35.97% and 34.82% are children with mental disabilities and children with speech disabilities, respectively. During my community visit in Bangalore, out of the three days I spent at the application centre, I came across only one woman, who had a child with disability, and had come to fill in the form because she wanted her daughter to study in a private school.

Section 12 (1)(c) of the Right to Education Act which my host organization focusses on is also considered as a tool which can promote inclusion, especially when it comes to children with disabilities. It mandates that 25% seats in entry level classes of private unaided schools be reserved for children from socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society. And children with disabilities or children with special needs as they are referred to, fall under the socially disadvantaged category. Through this provision children are exposed to the idea of diversity and inclusion, and that children with disabilities might have different needs or sometimes may look different, but have the same dreams, aspirations and feelings. The hope is that these children in diverse classrooms will grow up to become sensitized and inclusive individuals, contributing towards an inclusive society.

Even the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a way forward to the Millennium Development Goals have explicitly mentioned to strive for ‘ensuring equal access to equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.’ Thus making inclusive education part of the global agenda.

SDG Goal 4 Icon: SDG Goal 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
SDG Goal 4 Icon: SDG Goal 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.


I would like to end the blog with a quote from Maya Angelou, which talks about diversity with respect to skin color, but I believe it is applicable for all.

‘We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color’.



Deepika, born and brought up in the city of New Delhi, graduated from University of Delhi and then pursued M.A. in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai. After the completion of her post graduation, she has been working in the development sector, which has helped her gain an understanding of various dimensions of her interest areas which are mainly health, disability, advocacy, and women’s rights. Most recently, she was associated with a start-up working to provide accessible travel solutions to persons with disabilities, where some of her responsibilities included exploring and pursuing advocacy and collaboration opportunities with government and non-government agencies, curation of international and national alliances and media interfacing and communications. Deepika believes that her education in social work has guided her to understand that service to others is not just charity. Deepika believes service is about by pushing forward the agenda for inclusion and rights of people. Her professional experience has further strengthened this philosophy. Her motivation is the hope and belief that we can bring about changes irrespective of how huge or small they are. Deepika was a participant of the Summer School for Future International Development Leaders 2017, a program organized by IIM Udaipur and Duke University.

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