M.I. Habibullah,May 15:The key to the information society is universal access. Everyone must have equal opportunity to participate in the digital age. And no one should be denied the potential benefits of new information and communication technologies (ICT), not least because they are hampered by their disabilities.
Believing this, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) this year has adopted the theme: “Connecting Persons with Disabilities: ICT Opportunities for All” to mark the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. It is aimed at empowering every citizen with information and knowledge, improving the lines of communication to the remotest and most vulnerable groups, and building an inclusive information society geared towards the advancement of a better, more peaceful and productive world. This would not only ensure an inclusive information society, but would also enable ITU Member States to meet their obligations under Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006. In India, the tremendous technological developments in the field of rehabilitation of the handicapped have made the legless (Amputees) people walk like normal people and the armless people shake hands with their friends by wearing/fitting latest technological limbs. They drive motorized or non-motorized tri-cycles and even cars which are fitted with special appliances. Nine varieties of such cars are manufactured in India by the Maruti Udyog Limited. Another example of the Technological innovation in this field is the use of plastic in place of steel for orthopedic instruments. Plastic has many advantages over steel like it allows patients to bend their joints more easily. According to the Census 2001, there are 2.19 crore persons with disabilities in India who constitute 2.13 per cent of the total population. The mentally retarded persons are 22.64 lakhs and constitute approximately 0.23 per cent of the total population in the country. The total population of mentally challenged persons as per census 2001 is 22,63,821. The physical, social and psychological empowerment of persons with disabilities is promoted through Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) and Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of aids/Appliances (ADIP) Scheme. The seven National Institutes also take up programmes for empowerment of persons with disabilities through their outreach programmes. The Government has been promoting self-employment of person with disabilities by providing vocational training and loan on concessional rates through National Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC). Braille shorthand machines used by the visually handicapped which were earlier imported are now manufactured in India by the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation (ALIMCO), Kanpur. One of the items manufactured by ALIMCO which requires special mention is an artificial hand that can hold a pen and write and even lift light weights. These are designed and developed by the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun. Recreational kits like chess, playing-cards, drought-boards and puzzles for the blind children are also designed and developed by them. NIVH developed a Hindi Code for visually handicapped Stenographers in 1981, thereby opening new vistas for the blind Stenos. People suffering from congenital deafness or loss of hearing by disease or drug toxicity can now feel the ‘sensation of sound’ through an electrical devise developed by the Indian scientists. It consists of a specially designed electronic circuit, which generates a specific pulse train. Last year, the NIVH developed a computerized add-on interface which enables blind operators to handle large manually-operated telephone exchanges. This devise had already undergone field testing at the central public sector undertaking, the Pyrites, Phosphates and Chemicals Ltd. (PPCL), Dehradun. The NIVH is now engaged in developing a Braille mathematics code and teaching device, which will enable the blind to study mathematics in higher classes. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has recently provided computer facilities to all the national institutes for the handicapped. The computers located at Dehradun for the visually handicapped, Calcutta for the orthopedically handicapped, Mumbai for hearing handicapped and Secunderabad for the mentally handicapped are linked to the main computer at the National Information an Documentation Centre, New Delhi. In the past, limb-affected handicapped (amputees) people could walk properly and fully used sticks even for a short-distance walk. But now, due to technological developments, amputees use artificial limbs and walk like normal people. They ride motorized/non-motorized tri-cycles. Above all, the Maruti Udyog Limited manufactures hand-driven/leg-driven cars according to the particular disability of a person. Now, India manufactures Braille shorthand machines for the betterment of the visually handicapped stenographers. These machines are manufactured at the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation (ALIMCO), Kanpur and designed and developed by the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun in Uttarakhand. To help all-round development of the handicapped, the Government has instituted three National Awards for technical invention that would help the handicapped stand on their own feet. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, introduced a new insurance scheme for the mentally retarded (MR) people, called “Nirmaya”, which is a free insurance scheme. The National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun has also developed a “Braille” mobile phone for the all-round betterment of the visually handicapped of India. *Freelance Journalist, Pudukkotai, Tamil Nadu