Press Information Bureau
Government of India
President's Secretariat
03-December-2010 16:14 IST
Speech by her Excellency the President of India Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the Presentation of the National Awards for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to participate in the presentation ceremony of the National Awards for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 2010. Today, we honor those individuals and institutions who have overcome the enormous odds posed by their disabilities, to excel in various fields. I am impressed to see their determination, hard work and enthusiasm. I feel they are more effective than many abled persons. We also honour those who have made outstanding contribution towards empowerment of persons with disabilities. It is an appropriate occasion to reflect on our collective endeavors in creating an inclusive society, in which every member of the society, including persons with disabilities enjoy equal opportunities and are able to develop to their fullest potential.

World over there is awareness that this issue requires focus. Recently, during my State visit to Syria, I visited AAMAL an institution for differently-abled where an approach that prepares them in a manner that they integrate into the mainstream, is being followed. Along with training the child, they also train parents on how to look after their children at home. I was impressed with the work being done there. In India also there is a growing consciousness on this account. As you would be aware, India was among the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force on 3rd May, 2008. Our ratification demonstrates our resolve to move forward on the agenda to provide differently-abled citizens of our country with an environment that enables them to participate in the various activities of society and the nation. I am informed that the Government has set up a Committee comprising disability activists, experts, State Governments and other stakeholders to draft a new legislation to replace the existing Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995 in line with the UN Convention. The requirements and the concerns of the disabled should be fully reflected, and I hope that the Committee will come up with a satisfactory and practical draft of the new legislation before long. The basic objective of the policies should be to make them self-reliant.

Education is very important as it provides opportunities for employment and advancement. The goal of inclusive and universal elementary education is being pursued under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. I am happy to learn that this has now been supplemented by a new Scheme of Inclusive Education for Disabled at the Secondary Stage, which covers children with disabilities studying at the secondary stage. The aim of the scheme is to enable all students with disabilities, completing eight years of elementary schooling, an opportunity to complete a further four years of secondary schooling from Classes IX to in an inclusive environment. Education must make the differently-abled strong, both mentally and physically, to face the world. It is, therefore, necessary, that an appropriate teaching-learning environment and provision of learning materials in an accessible format are provided. Teachers should be trained so that they can understand the needs of children with disabilities, and thereby teach and guide them properly. Teachers and society should become more sensitive and sympathetic towards disabled persons.

We need to remove physical barriers that do not allow persons with disabilities to access various facilities and services. As a component of their right to education, school buildings should be made free from physical barriers for children with special needs. Simple aids and assistive devices such as hearing devices, limb prosthesis, wheelchairs and Braille writing equipment help them immensely in mobility, communication and daily living. It is absolutely essential to make such aids and appliances, including computer software, available to all persons with disabilities, at a reasonable cost.

I believe that in this age of Information Technology, it is also imperative to make technology accessible. I am happy to note that since last January, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment became the first Central Ministry to make its website accessible to persons with disabilities. This is commendable and worthy of emulation. The Ministry should share the basic design and features with other Ministries and organizations so that others can follow suit. A few others have already done so. It is also a good development that a new category of National Award, namely for Websites with best accessibility has been introduced this year.

The world has seen any number of eminent scientists, mathematicians, musicians, painters, poets, dancers and athletes who had some disability or the other. All these persons overcame various obstacles through sheer grit and determination, and support of the family and society. The full and effective participation of a person with disability in society on an equal basis with others can be helped by the behavioral attitudes that they encounter when they interact in society. We must treat them with dignity and full respect. The family, community and society in general, have an important role to play in ensuring socio-psychological and emotional integration of persons with disabilities. It is necessary to correct the prevailing bias in society, particularly with regard to persons with mental disabilities, through sustained education and awareness campaigns. Civil Society organizations and academic institutions in the country should spearhead this movement. Special attention must be given to women and children with disabilities, those who are socially and economically weak, and those residing in rural areas and urban slums, as they are the most disadvantaged.

Prevention and early detection are two other critical aspects on which awareness needs to be generated. The schemes of Integrated Child Development Scheme and National Rural Health Mission have an extremely important role to play in this regard, and I urge the concerned Ministries to lay adequate stress on this aspect while implementing their schemes. Measures such as immunization and disease prevention, improvement of hygiene, better nutrition and access to healthcare, maternal and neonatal care need to be taken in right earnest.

Economic empowerment of persons with disabilities is another major issue. Opportunities for employment and self-employment for them at present are inadequate. No doubt, we have provisions for reservation in employment in all establishments in the Government Sector, but the backlog of reserved vacancies for persons with disabilities, needs to be filled up through concerted action by all Government organizations. Similarly, the private sector must come forward to provide employment opportunities to persons with disabilities in their establishments and industries. Given the right environment and job selection, there is absolutely no doubt that a person with disability is in no way less capable than anybody else. The new scheme of Skill Development Initiative must be adequately tailored to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, so that they acquire skills suited to them, as well as in demand, in the job market. Both government and the private sector will have to work hand in hand in this regard.

In conclusion, I would like to re-emphasize that all Indian, irrespective of any limitation or impairment, have the right to realize their full developmental potential. Therefore, besides a robust policy framework, we must have an efficient and effective delivery mechanism. The Central and especially State Governments must partner with Civil Society and the private sector, in their endeavor to create an inclusive society.

I congratulate the awardees and convey my best wishes to them for their future. They will be an inspiration to others. Let us all pledge to work towards the empowerment and inclusion of all.

Thank You.

Jai Hind!