The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Of capability, potential & challenges
- No time limit set for giving essential services to the disabled, says crusader

Kanchan Gaba is the poster girl for possibility. Lawyer and social worker, she has been counselling visually-challenged children for years. She is also the ‘first blind lady’ to turn high court lawyer in Calcutta and has a high-risk hobby: mountaineering. On Wednesday, she scaled another height: Public advocacy for the rights of the disabled.

Kanchan, delivering the keynote address at a two-day seminar designed to create awareness on the rights and abilities of the physically and mentally challenged, called for prompt governmental action. Sheriff of Calcutta Prabir Roy inaugurated the meet, organised by the Society for Welfare of Children, in collaboration with the department of science and technology.

“Disabled people don’t believe they have the capability and the people around them don’t believe they have the potential,” explains Gaba, who spoke on national and international laws pertaining to the rights of the challenged. The major “discrepancy” in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, stresses the advocate, is that there is no timeline binding the state to provide essential services.

“The government has said that it will provide free education and a barrier-free environment. But it has no where stated a time by which it will achieve this,” adds Gaba, who has, with a friend, started her own legal firm, K.D. Associates. Basic features, like ramps and voice-operated elevators, have not yet been installed in public places.

The three per cent reservation in government jobs also creates disparity. “There is little chance for a blind person to get a job if someone with low vision is also applying for the same berth,” explains the 27-year-old specialist in intellectual property rights. Further classification defining the present categories of “mental, physical and visual handicap” would solve this problem, she contends.

Public action and awareness is the only thing that can better the lot of the challenged. “By 2015, the United Nations has predicted there will be one disabled person in every family. Already in India, 10 per cent of the population suffers some form of disability,” she warns.

The seminar also included talks by representatives of governmental agencies dealing in the certification, training and services for those with disability. Jhuma Maitra of the Vocational Rehabilitation Centre spoke of empowering illiterate and impoverished candidates through self-employment schemes.

Thursday’s sessions, before an audience of NGOs and ‘normal’ schools (to enable early intervention and prevention), will address issues of education for challenged children in state schools, management of special schools, financing schemes, public awareness and attitudes.

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