International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed today, December 3.
Disabled kids are like any kids. They love being made a fuss of, getting out of school to do something more interesting, having fun and eating laddoos.
World Disability Day gives them a reason to do what they most enjoy: being kids and having fun.
At Latika this year, we’ll celebrate by taking all 300 of our children for a glorious picnic. Some of our favourite donors have contributed generously to make sure they’ll have plenty of burgers, pizza, ice cream to eat, games and rides to enjoy and treats and surprises to take home. And of course, we adults will enjoy it all just as much as the kids will.
But what we’d all really enjoy is to wake up on December 3 and find that World Disability Day has been cancelled.
Who needs their own day?
The United Nations has around 200 days each year which are meant to “educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.” Proclaimed in 1992 by a UN General Assembly resolution, December 3rd is the official day to create awareness about the rights of disabled people.
While there are a few days in the 200 that celebrate achievements and victories (Nelson Mandela Day, World Creativity and Innovation Day), most are reminders of travesties like genocide, human slavery and environmental degradation, or of catastrophes waiting to happen like World Malaria Day, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Day or World Day Against Child Labour.
You’ll notice, however, that there is no ‘World Day for White Men,’ no ‘World Day for the Wealthy.’
The sad truth is: if you’ve got a day of your own, you’ve got problems.
Thanks, we guess . . .
Having a Day just for the disabled does mean that at least important people are aware of those problems. But let’s not pretend it’s something to celebrate. At least 15 percent of the world’s population has a disability. That’s not the problem. The problem is that most governments, including our own, neither acknowledge the existence of disabled children and adults nor plan for them.
Here in India, according to a recent UNESCO report, 75% of disabled children under 5 still aren’t in school. And according to a study by the National Centre for the Promotion of Employment of Disabled People, 67% of disabled adults can’t find a job. A big part of the problem here in India is that our numbers are inaccurate: while most of the world reports a disabled population between 14 and 16% of the total, here in India, according to our most recent census, only 2.2% of the population is disabled.
Whatever the reasons for our wildly inaccurate headcount, the end result is the same: what you don’t count, you don’t plan for. And what you don’t plan – obviously – never happens.
A challenge, not a celebration
The Days that the UN designates are meant not to make us feel proud of our compassion and awareness but motivated to purposeful action. In 1988, World Polio Day was announced and by 1994, India, at that time home to 60% of the world’s cases, announced its commitment to total eradication of the disease.
India took World Polio Day as a challenge, not as a fact that couldn’t be changed. Over the next two decades, public health workers across the sub-continent toiled heroically and without pause until they reached their goal. India has been polio free now for fourteen years – an astonishing achievement which the entire world views with awe.
It has to matter.
For World Disability Day to matter here, we need to recognise what is at stake. 15% of India’s 1.4 billion population is huge. Two hundred and eleven million, to be precise. 211,000,000 citizens of India are denied a meaningful education, employment and physical access simply because of a condition they happen to have.
Forget about their personal deprivations and daily anguish; forget about their rights and dreams – what about the loss to the country? What about all that wasted talent, commitment and power? Are we so well-off that we can afford to squander such wealth?
This World Disability Day, let’s pledge to eliminate the need for a special day for the disabled. We did it for polio. We’re doing it for girls’ education and women’s rights. We can do it now for disability. Let’s commit to making our country and our world so accessible and so accepting of every person that disability simply won’t matter – it will just be a quirk, like being left-handed or wearing glasses. No big deal. No need for a special day.