Volume 1 Issue 8 - December 15, 2003

World Disability Day celebrations 2003: A part of the whole

'To be a part and not apart.' World Disability Day 2003 gave the six crore disabled people of our country a new surge of energy in their fight to be a part of mainstream society.

For the past six years, several thousand people have flocked to India Gate grounds on December 3. Though from different parts of the country, different age groups, different religions and speaking different languages, these people are all bound together by a common struggle: a struggle for the basic human need of acceptance. World Disability Day commemorates that struggle for social acceptance and freedom of every individual whose will has defeated destiny.

The characteristic walkathon of this event, 'Walk To Freedom', hence, becomes more than a mere slogan. It embodies the collective grit and determination of a community striving to bridge the gap between themselves and a privileged majority. NCEPDP has played an essential role in giving expression to the hidden potential behind every wheelchair and white cane. Every disabled person has the potential to acquire a skill or talent which can make him or her self-reliant and economically independent. The onus now lies in the hands of society, to provide the resources and sensitivity to channelise this potential towards a 'free' existence.

This year one of the main objectives was to reach out to a much larger population. In order to do so, a unique 'Solidarity Campaign' was launched across the country with the help of the National Disability Network. Information leaflets, yellow and blue ribbons, banners and pledge forms were distributed across the country to aid in this outreach. The campaign was not restricted to the disability sector alone but included a large number of corporates, schools and colleges.

On the eve of World Disability Day, special 'Solidarity Booths' were set up in all state capitals and union territories across the country. Delhi alone managed to set up a total of over 200 solidarity booths. These attracted thousands of ordinary citizens. Over a hundred thousand pledges, in support of the disability sector, were signed.

The World Disability Day event in Delhi was celebrated by over 8,000 people, which included about 2,000 school and college students. Highlights this year were an excellent play by IMAGO headed by well-known theatre personality Barry John (in association with Delhi Deaf Friendship Club and the National Association for the Blind), and a brilliant performance by the popular music band, Indian Ocean.

The biggest achievement, this year, is that World Disability Day celebrations are now the result of a joint effort by the disability sector as a whole. The Core Group of NGOs in Delhi - which met on September 8, 2003, to discuss the celebrations - included NCPEDP, Action for Abilities Development and Inclusion (AADI), Council of Architecture, The Deaf Way, Deepalaya, Hemophilia Federation (India), The Leprosy Mission, Pravah and Swavalamban.The efforts of the disability sector were supported by Royal Danish Embassy (DANIDA), Handicap International (HI) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

World Disability Day 2003 resonated with the theme of 'Inclusion' and the motto 'To be a part and not apart', which was decided by the Core Group. These only further emphasise that even after 50 years of Independence, over six crore Indians still haven't experienced true freedom! The motto expresses a disabled person's right to be a part of mainstream society but this can only happen when the privileged masses readjust themselves to create a space for them.

Earlier, on December 2, the prestigious Helen Keller awards were presented by NCPEDP in collaboration with the Shell Group of Companies. The selection committee went through the difficult procedure of selecting 10 awardees from amongst several testimonies of outstanding achievement; seven individuals and three companies were chosen as the recipients of this year's awards. These include Atul Desai, Colin Gonsalves, Jawaharlal Lal Kaul, Nara Nageswarrao, Papiya Sarkar, Ram Dayal Sharma, Subhash V. Dhavale, Sushila Bohra, Vivek Kumar Agrawal, Family Of Disabled, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Sharayu Precision.

The celebrations were ably supported by the media, which covered the event extensively.

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