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Signs of change

A dictionary for aurally-challenged is welcome. For the disabled in India, many more barriers need to be dismantled.

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January 24, 2017 12:05:53 am

In 1980, the author Madan M. Vasishta compiled a few hundred signs used by the aurally-challenged in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru in An Introduction to Indian Sign Languages. Three-and-a-half decades after Vasishta’s seminal contribution, work on Indian sign languages remains sketchy. Experts believe that the diversity in sign languages across the country makes the task of developing a compendium a difficult task. In this context, it is heartening to note that the first Indian Sign Language Dictionary is scheduled to be released in March. The Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, that has been commissioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, has compiled representations of more than 6,000 words of everyday use in different parts of the country, as well as technical, legal and medical terms. In a country where attitudes, laws and the lack of infrastructure militate against the participation of the disabled in public life, the salience of this dictionary cannot be overstated. However, India has a long way to go before the needs of the disabled are sufficiently met, or even recognised.

An overwhelming majority of schools, movie-theatres, public transport amenities, buildings and parks are not disabled-friendly. Most modern lifts with digital keyboards do not have Braille symbols. The Accessible India Campaign was launched in December 2015, with the aim of making the infrastructure of at least 50 per cent of government buildings in each state capital disabled-friendly by July 2018. But a little more than a year on, scarcely anything has happened on that front. According to the UNICEF, nearly a million of the 2.9 million Indian children in the school-going age with disabilities are out of school.

In December 2016, Parliament passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill. The legislation is an improvement on its predecessor, the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. The number of disabilities officially recognised has increased from seven to 21 and in a first, the legislation has provisions to protect those with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities and acid-attack survivors. It also emphasises the need for accessibility of hospitals, schools and other educational institutions for the disabled. However, it does not set timelines to develop such infrastructure. The Bill initially envisaged five per cent reservation for the disabled in government jobs and education institutions, but this was eventually cut down to four per cent. The legislation, and now the dictionary, are signs of change. But for the disabled in the country, many more barriers need to be dismantled.

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First published on: 24-01-2017 at 12:05:53 am
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