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NO SYMPATHY! GIVE RIGHTS!

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United Nations International Day of People with Disabilities which was on December 3 splashed many discussions and programmes. A friend of mine who was an organizer of such an event told me he is not satisfied with the public participation and also with the public awareness.

Manique Gunarathne, an executive in The Employer's Federation of Ceylon, who was visually impaired in 2000 also pointed out that the public awareness about people with disabilities is insufficient. She holds many top positions in different organisations and contributes to people with disabilities.

She has represented Sri Lanka in international context for about fifteen times and has won three National awards including 'Diriya Kantha Award' 2007.

According to the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, No.28 of 1996, persons with disabilities have been defined as "any person who, as a result of any deficiency in his/her physical or mental capabilities, whether congenital or not, is unable by himself /herself to ensure for himself/herself, wholly or partly, the necessities of life". According M D C. Jayamanne, Director of National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities the population of people with disabilities in Sri Lanka is about 7 percent of the country's population.

A proper methodology for recording comprehensive data on them should be implemented. But many initiatives have been taken for the betterment of the persons with disabilities which are like Sri Lanka. This is becoming signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 30, 2007.

The legislation has been passed by the Disabled Persons (Accessibility) Regulations, No. 1 of 2006 to bring it is mandatory to be "accessible to all" creating a disabled-friendly environment.

This insists the need of ramps, specialised toilet facilities and other ergonomically user friendly features to make public buildings accessible for people with disabilities and the elderly. According to Director of National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, it is going to call for financial estimates to construct accessible facilities in the government buildings for the persons with disabilities and then planning to allocate financial provisions.

He moreover says that the allowances for the persons with disabilities given by the government will be increased. The housing grant will be increased to one hundred thousand rupees to one hundred and fifty thousand rupees. Self employment, medical, education allowances and the number of families receiving the allowance paid to families with persons with disabilities are also increased. The number of families would be increased from 35 families to 50 families in a Divisional Secretariat Division. When considering persons who became disable by passed conflict, he told that, community based rehabilitations programs are conducting especially in North and East. Manique says that, with all these support definitely there should be attitudinal change in the society about persons with disabilities.

"We expect a change from sympathy to empathy, from dependence to independence, from exclusion to inclusion. People help us with charity based attitude by sympathizing. But what we want is our rights" Her words imply there is a misconception in the society about people with disability which is felt by them. What the people with disabilities demand is not special focus on them, but accepting them. She moreover mentioned "being a woman with disabilities is like double handicapped. There is a judgment in the society that a women with disabilities is unable conduct a good marriage life or unable to have children. But they have right to marry.

And also though there are a lot of women organisations; they do not munch concerned in inclusion of women with disabilities, but we do like to be part of them." She also reminded that legislation ensures 3 percent of the workforce in public services has to be much more considered by government and private sectors. But she also pointed out English knowledge and computer literacy of the people with disabilities should be improved to increase their working opportunities. She has becoming strength to other persons with disabilities by giving them her knowledge in Information Technology and English. "There are families that do not tend to send the persons with disabilities to schools or release them to the society though they like to mix with others."

It is time to change. Change the way you think about them. But they think big. They have stable dreams. At least we should give them the way to make the dreams real.

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