The Sunday Leader

Discrimination Of Handicapped Persons

by Shalika Wimalasena

This is a story about children. It had to be mentioned first since you should have a humane feeling when going through this story. It is only by mentioning our human nature that we can invoke such feelings inside others. This story would have less value for  people who are living a mechanical robotic life between home and work. This is not our fault.

I would like to start this story from a point that you would feel touched. In many private institutions today a lot of handicapped personnel can be seen working along with healthy people and among them are those  who are audibly handicapped. However, those who are kind towards these employees are being praised and admired by  society.

However, sometimes the truth is different.

The same employer who offers you a monthly salary of Rs. 25,000 is giving out only  Rs 10,000  for a deaf employee. Sometimes the salary  could be even lower. This is an outright exploitation of labour.

However, the  owner of a small company had the following to say…

“There is no injustice in that. They cannot perform equally as a normal person.”

If that is the case then why shout out to the outside world preaching about equality for disabled persons?

This is totally a baseless argument. Sometimes employees with hearing disabilities work more efficiently than regular healthy employees.

The problem lies with the means of communication. When compared with other basic problems that can be seen in a work place this is something that has less significance.

When you travel abroad you always try to fulfill your needs by communicating with people in whatever way possible. Sometimes you may not have the slightest idea about their language. This is how humans behave.

Let us talk about children. In Sri Lanka there are 21 schools for children with hearing disabilities set up island-wide. All these are being carried out as semi-governmental institutions. However, they function under the supervision of the special education unit at the Ministry of Education. Many students who study in these schools are boarded in hostels. The reason for this is that there are only 21 schools in the entire country that are dedicated for these students with special needs. Hence many are unable to go to these schools from home.

It is a popular myth that the government is providing aid to these children. This is what the mother of one normal child had to say about that. “The government is aiding those children all the time. But since our children are normal they receive nothing.”

This is an inhumane statement but that is what many parents believe these days.

However, the truth is far more different that what you believe.

For these handicapped children the grand sum that they receive daily to have three square meals at the hostel and to have some snacks at school is  Rs 50.


With Rs 50 a day, what can they eat?


The price of food is skyrocketing on a daily basis but over the past few years the daily allowance provided for these children with special needs has only been increased by Twenty Rupees.


So are these children living in hunger?


Luckily no.The reason is the sympathy Sri Lankans have towards these unfortunate kids. In developed countries even the word “handicapped” is not used to describe them. Instead they use “people with special abilities” to describe these people. So there is respect even in those terms.


However,  where are we in that regard?


For children in these schools sometimes receive alms and on other days the authorities are doing some “gimmick” to feed the children. “Gimmick” is the best term to describe their actions. The authorities cannot ask money from the parents of these disabled children as hostel fees since the parents too are living in poverty. So they resort to the help of wealthy businessmen. Sometimes they publish notices and newspaper advertisements announcing vacant days to give alms.

The special education unit of the education ministry is not paying enough attention towards the administration of these schools and the health of these children. If their motives were genuine then they should have at least increased this beggar’s sum by Rs 10. It is doubtful as to whether even the subject minister is aware that there are 21 schools of this sort under his control.

However, somehow these children are able to cling on to life.

It is the responsibility of the teaching instructors to inspect the level of education in these schools as well.

The special education unit at the Teacher training college in Maharagama is a stagnant place. New techniques are not being taught in that place. Special education has been given prominence in the education sector of many countries but here our teachers are compelled to follow the out dated methods. If it is not possible to provide this new knowledge locally the authorities should at least take steps to arrange some foreign training for these teachers. However, nothing has been done on that so far and the teachers cannot be blamed for this. There are many instances where the teachers have been compelled to become the parents of these children.

The vital factor that is needed for a child to live is love. When they feel loneliness and lack of care they lose their will to live. Like everyone else children too are afraid of solitary confinement.

“These children love to be with others. They love it more than a normal child as they feel loneliness more than others. They know that they cannot hear. So they distance themselves from others. So we must be able to stay with them. The teachers are dedicated to this task. On the other hand the authorities have a duty to provide facilities to make the lives of these children better.”

This is what a teacher at a special needs school had to say.

The social services department is well aware of these problems but little has been done so far. Previously there had been a loan scheme with lower interest rates granted for school leavers with special needs. However, that is not in existence today. Although there is a housing loan scheme there are many conditions for it.

In a recent circular issued by the government it has been mentioned that 03% of the government vacancies should be dedicated to personnel with special needs, but in reality that 03% is always snatched by political stooges. So the real handicapped people are left helpless for an eternity.

However there is something those who are ill-treating the disabled must know. It is that the right for equal treatment has been protected by the constitution of the country itself.

However, despite this these people with special needs are being discriminated openly in  society.

The government could reduce taxes imposed on hearing aids. They could make these instruments more affordable for the people to buy. However, as always, the authorities seemed to be caring only about “important people” when considering tax exemptions.

One thing must be repeated. It is that they too are living breathing humans.

PS: to tell you the story we have deliberately used the term “handicapped” in this article.


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