To some, the vulnerability by virtue of physical or mental disability is imposed by nature since birth, while to others such vulnerability visits by tragic accidents or incidents in life. Nonetheless, a persons living with disability is much an integral part of our society as any other individual. There is no segregation or distinction in terms of constitutional rights and civil liberties enjoyed by any individual and a person with disability (PWD). However, there are certain special needs and concerns of PWDs which the society has to address. These mainly include creation of an enabling environment for facilitating effective participation of PWDs in economic, civic, and community life. Among the persons living with disabilities for whom very little is done to provide them conducive environment and facilities of various kinds to meet their special needs, there also exists a class which is further deprived of human dignity, equal rights within a community of PWDs and often abused or ignored. Much like a regular case, even in the sphere of disability rights, it’s a class of women with disabilities which are more deprived than disabled men in many respects. Yes, this is a further harsh reality of the disadvantaged groups of PWDs. So to say, women with disabilities often face greater degree of exploitation and their plight multiplies manifold. This includes the horrifying cases of sexual abuse of girl child and especially when such a female child has one or the other form of physical or mental disability.
Hence, this discussion intends to raise general awareness about the rights and concerns of women with disabilities. Fundamentally speaking, they too have a rightful entitlement to 3Es format of rights. These are, Right to Equality in treatment, Right to Education and Right to Employment, besides other special rights like reproductive rights (freedom of motherhood), freedom for sexual activity, right to marry by their choice, and exclusive right over their body like any other able bodied women.
Generally seen, women with disabilities are not treated at par with men. They are not encouraged to complete basic education which would make them employable and empower them socially and politically. In matters of employment, women with disabilities are paid lesser wage than men. Some examples are commonly seen in our daily lives. We may agree to employ a partially disabled man as a household help, but do not easily employ a disabled women. In case of women with disability a general social thinking is that they would be a liability for a family, instead disabled man could still be made to work almost equivalent to an able bodied man. Sadly so but it is true that even as customers in various capacities we often avoid taking services from shops, restaurants, hotels, etc, where women with disability are employed (though out of regulatory compulsion). Instead, we do not mind taking laundry services, coolie services, rickshaw puller’s services, shoe polish services, vegetable vendor’s services, when man executing such services is disabled. These days, reputes garment showrooms and malls like ‘Lifestyles’ and others of similar genre, have a disabled men employed at a billing counter. But women with disabilities are not entrusted such a responsible job, instead they are at best kept to put the garments in order in shelves or perhaps clean washrooms and utility areas. Disparity is quite obvious and evident. Women are always expected to greet at the front desk when draped in stylish attire and may speak fluent English and perhaps has a managerial appeal. Women with disabilities are not allowed to take up such responsible positions. Be that as it may, it is social reality and we all are unintentionally if not active at least sleeping partners in such widespread disparity in the society.
On other occasions, the women with disabilities also face critical challenges in availing variety of services and also in purchasing essential goods which they may peculiarly require to support their biological needs. Foremost, it includes services like transportation services which are generally hostile to the special needs of women with disabilities in particular and persons with disabilities over all. Public transport for example is most horrifying experience for women with disability, such that boarding and de-boarding a public bus or an unreserved compartment of a train, which is mostly over crowded with men. The level of sensitivity towards women with disability is astonishingly low in such cases. Second could perhaps be a case of availing helper services at the public places especially airport, railway and bus stations. Women with disability who are as normal the consumers of these services like any other person medically temporarily unfit or a pregnant woman or an old age person, are often exploited for exorbitant charges for transporting their luggage or other services. Third and extremely important is a case of women with disability as a consumer of purchasing basic commodities like sanitary pads, under garments and even footwear are unequally and unfairly treated by the pharmacists and other retail merchants. Fourthly and perhaps another alarming consumer services where women with disability face problems of unequal treatment is in accessing facilities of heath care, and sanitation. Fifthly and lastly, renting an accommodation is another social issue that often comes in a way of a women with disability and especially if she is a single person.
In totality, there is a widespread network of social exclusion for women with disabilities more than that for men with disabilities. Irony is clear but solution is hazy. Must we as able bodied consumers of various goods and services including consumers of justice delivery services, extend a helping hand to the women with disabilities who often face double whammy, firstly as a woman and secondly as a disabled person, in accessing routine customer services in diverse forms and sometimes fundamental to their special needs as a woman.
‘Public Awareness, Compassion and Empathy (PACE)’ approach perhaps could be one the most effective means of empowering ‘Customer Awaaz’ of ‘Women with Disabilities’ when spearheaded by the informed able bodied customers to stand for the equivalent rights of their fellow customer who are none other than ‘women with disabilities’. We would bring to you more customer oriented issues concerning the persons living with disabilities in the upcoming articles, until then let us PACE up our attitude for women with disabilities in particular and persons with disabilities in general.