International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Being blind in a remote village of India

Manisha Sethiya

disabilities1 225x300 International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Being blind in a remote village of IndiaDisability 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.

diabilities3 300x225 International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Being blind in a remote village of IndiaHowever, 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.

disabilities2 300x225 International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Being blind in a remote village of IndiaFirst, 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.

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  • ebaytkmax

    Wishing her all the best, and hope all her dreams come true. x

  • Eeeek

    I am glad that people in your village are respecting you, here in England our government encourages people to think of disabled people as ‘workshy scroungers’. Yes, its true. They made a big show at the paralympic games about how proud they were of our disabled athletes, but hid the fact that there are millions of sick and disabled people that they are throwing out on to the streets, making deep cuts to our welfare system in order to give tax breaks for big corporations.

  • Rivka Chinicz

    Also wish her all the best.
    I think disabled people shouldn’t be called ‘disabled’. They are people with more strength and courage than any ‘normal’ person could ever have. They are really special.
    They overcome sadness and difficulties with happiness and joy, while ‘normal’ people complain about a broken cell phone and other futile things.
    They should be called special people, and ‘normal’ people should be called disabled, for not knowing how glad they should be for everything they have.

  • anonymous

    We could better tackle the problem of non-disabled people’s attitudes toward people with disabilities if some of the laws on the books were actually enforced. I’ve worked with disabled people since I was 17 and I’m disabled, myself. Schools, for instance, fight tooth and nail to avoid compliance with the federal laws requiring them to educate all students, incl. those with all types of disabilities. They usually get away with it because no one enforces non-compliance. Once that happens, people will see that disabled individuals are not slackers, and want to be independent, not dependent on government
    (a typical stereotype) Anyone can become disabled at any tme through no fault of their own – ven you.

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