Odisha Channel Bureau
Bhubaneswar: The unprecedented disruption of lives of unorganised workers and urban poor due to the pandemic and lockdown has impacted persons with disabilities (PwDs) the most, said experts who took part in a webinar on Saturday.
Stating that the PwDs are struggling to make ends meet, the experts underlined the need for coordinated efforts of the government, society and citizens to protect the interests of the PwDs.
The webinar titled – Whither the Disabled in the post-COVID context: Making a Case for Alternative Livelihood Development – was hosted by the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), a civil society organisations working with urban poor and Swabhiman, a leading Disability Persons Organisation supported by Water for Women Fund, Australian Government.
The webinar was addressed by experts, decision makers, civil society leaders, right holders’ organisations and community representatives.
While speaking about the importance disability inclusion, Alison Baker, Fund Manager, Water for Women Fund, emphasised the commitment of the Australian Government towards disability-inclusive development by creating opportunities for people with disabilities to have productive lives and livelihoods.
To do this, Dr. Baker stated that “we need to…. change our perspectives and perceptions of people with disabilities and see them as active and equal members of our community, who have important contributions to make.”
Taking this forward, Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, CFAR stated that disability is an issue that must be led and shaped by disability leaders, activists and advocates. She went on to add that this Webinar is an attempt to bring together disability activists and those committed to advancing the rights of disability to suggest the way forward.
Let's prevent COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/BQJLdQDg0g
— Sulochana Das (@SulochanaDas1) March 19, 2020
Some of the key recommendations that emerged were:
• Timely disbursement of loans for the disabled
• Inclusion in urban wage employment initiative and MNREGA
• Special focus on those pursuing their own small business enterprise
• Building capacity through education and skilling
• Inclusion in all livelihood schemes with market linkages
• Provision of caregiver and assistance allowance
• Effective access to water, sanitation and hygiene and inclusion in housing schemes
Swagat Jhankar Mallick, from CFAR team and an advocate for the rights of PwDs, shared his experiences of working on the ground during the pandemic. He found no one wants to support disabled people running small businesses due of the fear of contracting the infection. The disabled are not only burdened by the lockdown and the pandemic but also feel stigmatised and discriminated against.
This was reinforced by Kasturi Patra, who lives in Basti Bikash–I, operates a small home-based business of selling dry snacks who shared how the family was struggling to manage their daily needs. She urged the government to extend support to many disabled persons like herself.
Sruti Mohapatra, Chief Executive Officer, Swabhiman, spoke of the need for everyone to internalize the fact that the disabled like everyone else is searching for coping mechanisms in this difficult time. They have to adapt themselves to a new digital world which is not equipped to deal with specific needs of disabled.
To close the gap, Dr. Mohapatra urged “the government has to develop a data base of persons with disability, understand their capabilities, analyse the context of poverty in which most of them live in, devise robust legal environment, motivate skill development though education and attitudinal changes to provide them opportunities for a decent livelihood.”
Supporting this Manjulata Panda, Hirakud Degree College, Sambalpur, shared that “many differently abled people are self-employed and the government should adopt a policy of positive discrimination, develop inclusive polices and stress on fulfilling the rights of persons with disabilities’’
Delivering a special address, R. K Sharma Assistant Director, NCSCDA, Bhubaneswar, stressed that within the national skill qualification frame work, there are many opportunities for disabled persons and these are backed by the law passed in 2016. However, convergence among stakeholders, community and civil society is needed to strengthen the implementation for which a five-pronged approach has to be adopted.
Elaborating on the approach, Mr. Sharma said that “this includes enhancing motivation, building capacity, improving ability to be independent and have life- skills, enhance their entrepreneurial skills and support in networking and building strategic partnerships.”
Birupakhya Dixit of Practical Action urged government to take definite steps to mainstream disabled persons through community based inclusive development programmes including technical training, accessible education opportunities and especially for young people who drop out of educational institutions. He stressed the fact that “good intentions are never enough as they have to be matched with conscious action- based planning.”
Sanyasi Kumar Behera, SSEPD Department, Government of Odisha, spoke passionately about the deplorable plight of disabled persons working as coolies, street vendors who are not a part of organised trade union sector. There has been no package from state or central government except a meagre amount of Rs 2000 in place of dry ration. The Government has 4% reserved funds for persons with disabilities, under NULM “but in the absence of proper mechanisms and low sensitivity towards the issue this kind of commitment cannot translate into action,” he added.
Ghasiram Panda, Action Aid, highlighted the challenges faced by disabled during disaster. “We have zero preparedness for rehabilitation therapy as we assume that disabled are a homogeneous group. But there are various types of disabilities, people have specific needs and ability to work and all planning should be based on individual assessment to achieve transformative change”.
Hemant Kumar from Odisha Vikalang Manch lamented that “despite the various levels of policy directives for supporting disabled person, not much has changed for them at the ground level hence implementation is the key factor which needs to be addressed”.
In his valedictory address Jagadananda of the Centre for Youth and Social Development underlined the basic principle of inclusion of persons with disabilities. “Denial of right to live with dignity is a human right violation. To achieve this inclusion, citizens, government and society have to come together on a common platform and mount a coordinated advocacy to influence policy makers at the highest level”, he stated.
The webinar was attended by 182 participants from Odisha and other parts of India.