International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Being blind in a remote village of India
Disability probably isn’t something you think about very often. It’s something that I think about every day. And today, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities provides a chance to reflect on how our world can become more accessible and inclusive for disabled people. It’s a moment to think about what progress has been made, and what still needs to change.
I’m 16 years old and I’ve been blind my whole life. There are many barriers that I’ve already overcome, but also many that I still face as a disabled person.
The biggest barrier for me is getting around. I live in the Barmer district of Rajasthan in North-West India. It is very sandy here, so mobility becomes very challenging. Only a few of the buildings in my village have had ramps installed, and there is still a lot of work needed to ensure roads and buildings are made accessible. For me and others with visual impairment, it can be tough to get around and so this makes me dependent on my parents. Through one-to-one training from a Sightsavers’ partner, I’ve learnt how to use my cane to navigate, which has really helped. But still, on rainy days it becomes very difficult. And of course being a girl, safety is another issue. I often end up feeling isolated and dependent on others as family members need to accompany me around.
My village is in quite a remote area, so it can also be hard to stay in touch with the news. Many advances in technology haven’t yet reached us, and so it can be challenging to get support and information. I rely on the radio and a Braille newspaper to keep myself updated. But the Braille newspaper is published on a fortnightly basis and takes seven or eight days to reach my village. I want to have a Braille press in my district so that we can get more frequent, in-depth materials.
However, progress has been made where I live. One of the most positive changes in my village has been in education. I know the government has a programme called Sarve Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) and that there is a law in India called the Right to Education Act. So I know that education has become a right of all children, and where it is being enforced, schools are changing their attitudes towards people with disabilities. Many children like me are now going to school.
My school has now got a ramp and an accessible toilet, which means that I don’t have to go home during the school day and can attend all my classes. I’ve found that people in my village have really started to respect me, and they’re pleased that my brother (who is also blind) and I are studying. In fact there are two other disabled children in my village who have also started coming to our school. Education is what can help children like me move forward with life. Before I went to school I was always at home and dependent on others, but now my life is very different. I often speak out on social issues and now help other blind children to be more independent.
More needs to change though if education is to be made fully accessible. As my village is in a remote location, it’s a real struggle to get enough trained teachers to stay here – they keep changing frequently. There are still too few teachers who can support the needs of children like me and are also willing to live in such a remote location.
My hope is that barriers like these can be reduced – or even disappear forever. I’m excited to hear that over the coming months, world leaders will be deciding what the main priorities should be for global poverty reduction in the future – what to focus on, and how to make it happen. As a person with a disability, I think there should be two areas of focus; employment and gender.
First, there is a huge need for the development of skills amongst people with disabilities, including education, training and job coaching. Employment brings independence and much needed income. One day I would like to be the district magistrate.
Second, special attention must be given to women with disabilities. Many women in my area are confined to the household. They have important roles in caring for their family and home, but they remain dependent on male family members for financial stability. I hope that the needs of women with disabilities will be addressed.
But perhaps the greatest barrier of all is people’s attitudes towards people with disabilities. I’ve so often experienced prejudices that have hindered my participation in society. If we could tackle this barrier, the rest would come tumbling down.Tagged in: blind people, disbility, India, International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter