Creating a right based Empowerment model for Persons with Disabilities, a CSR perspective

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An article on –  “International Day for the Persons with Disabilities” 3rd Dec’ 2011.

Compiled By Debadutta Mishra

Believe in the abilities of persons with disabilities

The world community is going to celebrate “International Day for Persons with Disabilities” on 3rd December 2011, with the theme: “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development”.

The annual observance of the same is established by World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by UN – General Assembly on 3rd December 1982, just towards closing of observance of International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP 1981).

The objective of the celebration is to promote understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well being of persons with disabilities.

To commemorate the day on which the UN resolution 37/52 was passed, which later on became a significant instrument at achieving full participation and equality and protection of rights of persons with disabilities, the day 3rd December is being celebrated as “World Disability Day” which was re-titled as  “International Day for Persons with Disabilities” in 2006. Subsequent to “International Year for Persons with Disabilities” , the UN decade for Persons with disabilities (1983-19920 further subsequent to this decade, the Asia and Pacific decade (1993-2003) was observed.

The Asia Pacific decade has focused on twelve policy areas viz; national coordination, legislation, information, public awareness, accessibility and communication, education, training, employment, prevention of causes of disability, rehabilitation services, assistive devices, self help organizations, and regional cooperation.

If we see the post independence history of India, we can see that systematic constitutional efforts were initiated only after “International Year for Persons with Disabilities” by UN. As a signatory to various UN resolutions concerning disabled persons, India developed its legal instruments for the equal opportunity, full participation and protection of rights.

Various acts and constitutional bodies such as PwD act 1995, RCI act 1992, NT act 1999 and National Institutes were developed. Historically, India being an agrarian country, most of its population lived in rural areas. Indian villages were traditionally known for their culture of community living. Persons with disabilities were treated as equal and part of the community and they were eventually included.

They were provided due institutional as well as family care by the communities. The western scenario in different era remained someway different to that of India. The understanding and attitude towards disability is clearly reflected in the models described below, which evolved in the society form time to time.

1.    The Religious Model:
In a Western Judea-Christian society, the roots of understanding bodily difference have been grounded in Biblical references. Disability was considered as the consequences of result of evil spirits, witchcraft or God’s displeasure. Alternatively, such people were also signified as reflecting the “suffering Christ”, and were often perceived to be of angelic or beyond-human status to be a blessing for others.

Themes which embrace notions of sin or sanctity, impurity and wholeness, undesirability and weakness, care and compassion, healing and burden have formed the dominant bases of Western conceptualizations of disability. Various labels have been used for such people, such as crippled, lame, blind, dumb, deaf, mad, feeble, idiot, imbecile, and moron.

At many instances in the nomadic and/or agrarian western societies of pre-christ period, abandonment and killing had become prevalent.  Some were ostracised, and their survival threatened, because of a popular conception that such persons were monsters, and therefore unworthy of human status.

Though, In India the beliefs and understandings of causes of disabilities remained more or less the same as that in the western society, Indian communities never allowed persons with disabilities to suffer from abandonment killing. Rather they were taken care within the communities and families and nurtured with great personal sacrifices, although they were not given social inclusions during special rituals and yagyans. Important changes were to occur with the evolvement of the modern era profoundly influenced by the enlightenment and industrialization. During this time, religious values and modes were challenged by the uprising of reason and rationality.

2.    The Medical Model:
As medical and scientific knowledge expanded profusely, the doctor and the scientist replaced the priest as custodian of societal values and curing processes. At the early phase, disability was considered to be due to diseases or pathogens and people with disabilities were advised to stay away from communities, preferably in asylums in order to prevent spread of germs that has caused the disability.

‘Normality’, then, became determined by the ideal of the white, youthful, able, male body; and therefore, difference became redefined as deviance commanding control. The lives of such people were reduced to little more than a medical label, and their futures defined by a medical prognosis. As certain groups of people came to be viewed as unproductive and incapable, institutions were established as places with a dual purpose: (a) where such people could be placed whilst other family members could meet workers’ obligations; and (b) where such people could be skilled to become productive members of society.

In the post-industrial and post-enlightenment era, disability, in Western society, has been regarded as an individual affliction predominantly cast within scientific and medical discourses. Therefore, “disability” has come to be defined and signified as a power-neutral, objectively observable attribute or characteristic of an “afflicted” person. According to this model, it is the individual, and not society, who has the problem, and different interventions aim to provide the person with the appropriate skills to rehabilitate or deal with it.

In recent years, and with the influence of normalization principles since the 1970’s, the locus of an individualized conceptualization has shifted from the state-run (public) institution to community-based facilities and care. However, the medical perspective of disability remains wedded to the economy, whereby personal capacity and ability are often assessed as incapacity and inability so as to determine a person’s eligibility for financial assistance and benefits, and access to personal resources. Lack of access to adequate material resources perpetuates a charity discourse which depicts certain people as in need of help, as objects of pity, as personally tragic, and as dependent and eternal children.

It is a discourse of benevolence and altruism; and like with the responses of early Christian communities, this discourse serves a complimentary relationship between perceivably helpless people as instruments for good and virtuous works of mercy and compassion by the more “privileged” members of society.

3.    The Right-Based & Empowerment Model:
In more recent times, however, the notion of ‘disability’ has come to be conceptualized as a socio-political construct within a rights-based discourse. The emphasis has shifted from dependence to independence, as people with disability have sought a political voice, and become politically active against social forces of disablism. Disability activists, in engaging in identity politics, have adopted the strategies used by other social movements commanding human and civil rights, against such phenomena as sexism and racism. And these strategies have brought gains, but within certain limitations.

From the mid 1980’s, some Western countries like Australia have enacted legislation which embraces a rights-based discourse rather than a custodial discourse; and which seeks to address issues of social justice and discrimination. The legislation also embraces the conceptual shift from disability being seen as an individualised ‘medical problem’ to rather being about community membership and participation, and access to regular societal activities such as employment, education, recreation and so on.

Where access is inappropriate, inadequate, difficult or ignored, advocacy processes have been initiated to address situations and promote the people’s rights. Entitlements thus become contingent upon being able to define oneself as a person with disability. And the conceptual barrier between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ goes unchallenged, so that while one may have entitlements legislatively guaranteed, ‘community’ which cannot be legislated for, remains elusive.

4.    Looking to the Future: CSR perspectives
The history of disability has been a history of seeking to construct hierarchical difference out of an essential reality of oneness. The challenge is to create the reverse. As far as development and sustainability is concerned CSR is now a days emerging as the strongest instrument in the society.

But this is often seen that, most of the CSR have an enthusiasm for environmental causes like controlling pollution, global warming, deforestation, mitigate carbon emissions etc, and People with disabilities are often excluded from the mainstream CSR agenda of companies.

People with disabilities comprise of not less that 8-10% of population of any country and they are one of the important stakeholder groups taking business and sustainability together. People with disabilities are often subjected to many disadvantages in their societies including stigma and discrimination, despite of the prevalent right-based model today.

They remain largely marginalized, disproportionately poorer, frequently unemployed and have higher rates of mortality. Furthermore, they are largely excluded from social and political processes and are often voiceless in matters protection of rights. Experience shows that when people with disabilities are empowered to participate and lead the process of development, their entire community is benefited, as their involvement creates opportunities for everyone – with or without a disability. Including persons with disabilities and their communities in developmental efforts is important to advance the development agenda.

This is therefore a call of hour to all Corporate to come forward to include disability rehabilitation issues into their social responsibility and all development agenda and process. What CSR can do is provide them standard platform to access state of art Rehabilitation services in terms of early intervention, early childhood education, skill development training, access to information and communication technology, appropriate Vocational training and Livelihood programs with an long term goal of social integration and their inclusive growth.

About the Author

Debadutta Mishra is Editorial board member of INDIACSR. He  is a trained management professional from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad and an Occupational therapy graduate from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. He is having more than 10 years of working experience in Non-profit organizations and CSR and committed involvement in development and disability arena. He has with conviction deployed the management concepts and practices successfully in empowering the community by creating participatory and inclusive models with sustainability as the ultimate goal. He believe that impact evaluation and research are the cornerstones for knowledge creation that will enable nurturing innovative concepts and initiatives to address development issues to the ultimate delight of people.

He has rolled out programmes in partnership with NGOs and Self-Help Groups in AP, Odisha and Chhattishgarh. His core competencies are visioning, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation, asset/capability/capacity building, branding and communication, development, discovery, documentation and dissemination.

He can be reached at info@indiacsr.in

Photo: www.indiacsr.in

(Disclaimer : I admit that, this article is not genuinely written by me. some portion of it was copied from different articles in internet. But I hope that much is permissible. and this will be a good article on a special occasion like International Day for Persons with Disabilities.)

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