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Social Inclusion

Author: Dr. Ali Khwaja

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Social Inclusion

Gandhiji had rightly said that India is a nation of minorities – there is no majority in this country. The beauty of our great nation is the diversity: in terms of religion, cultures, language, looks, geography, practices, and skills. In this milieu there is a large segment of society that has been traditionally ignored or looked down upon, because of the fact that they are differently-abled.

There is a historical reason for this isolation. Years ago, if a person had any limitation or disability, he could not be a contributing member of society. A person who could not see, hear, or walk, was just left behind. While family members may have taken care of the basic needs of the person, he was identified as a parasite on society, who needs to be looked down upon with compassion. Similar was the fate of the elderly who, due to cataract, arthritis or heart ailments, were “retired” in their fifties and expected to live off their pension or the good-heartedness of the younger generation.

In the last two decades technology has advanced so rapidly that many of the limitations and disabilities now seem inconsequential. Many “disabilities” of the past have become curable -- knee-joint replacement, intricate eye surgeries or transplants, cochlear implants for the hearing impaired, electric wheelchairs and hand-driven cars, are just a few examples.

In this scenario there is a need to take a re-look at the role of persons with disability. Their inclusion into mainstream society is imperative not just to provide them with a livelihood, but also for society to grow, benefit, and be more productive. A recent example that I had read about was: A small town in USA had a shopping mall with a number of independent shops. One of the shop owners suffered an accident and become confined to a wheelchair. It was then that he realized that he cannot move around in his own shopping mall because there were curb- stones, one or two steps up and down, and footpaths with abrupt height changes. All the shopkeepers got together and decided to make the mall wheelchair-friendly. It hardly cost them anything to build ramps, and the task was soon done. What came as a wonderful bonus was that their business shot up considerably as very soon other people on wheelchairs started doing their shopping there, young mothers with babies in prams preferred to come there, and other shoppers brought their elderly relatives who were offered temporary wheelchairs if they could not walk much!

This is just one small incidence of the awakening that society needs to move towards. It may be very self-gratifying to our conscience to give a few coins to a beggar with disability, but it is far more in our interest if we can provide a level playing field to all those who are differently- abled. In this era of Information Technology, they can produce wonders. One need not look at geniuses like Steven Hawkins who are miles ahead of their non-disabled colleagues – one needs to just look around in our own society, and we will see so many capable persons who need only a slight helping hand, an open mind to welcome them, and they too can perform and contribute as much to society as anyone else.

There is another important reason why we need to work towards inclusion. The Association of Americans with Disability once gave a label to all of us who are without disability -- TAB’s i.e. “Temporarily Able Bodied.” We do not know when, with age or with circumstances, we too face limitations or disability in some form. Hence only if we change our mindset to look beyond the disability and welcome everyone who is different into our social and work environment, can we progress to our full potential.

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