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Uncapping ‘Dis’ from the Abilities!
This story appears in the October 2018 issue of School LIVE.
What drives a person to work for a larger, greater cause outside of themselves? Is it because they are helpful, or because an individual has experienced so much that they begin to empathize with others? Or is it a bit of both? We find out from Nipun Malhotra, founder of Nipman Foundation, about his journey.

Nipun Malhotra’s earliest memories are of constantly being compared to a wooden doll. His parents were told by the doctors that he could be kept alive only for a few months for he had a “straight neck”. Numerous visits to the doctor, and an early diagnosis of Arthrogryposis (locomotive disability), did not deter Nipun from fighting not only for his rights but of many others like him.  His own life lessons, helped him set out on a mission to work tirelessly for those who had suffered with disabilities of any kind. With his undying spirit, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in September 2018 to get the Indian Sign Language officially recognized. This PIL has reached the Home Ministry and is under review, for which the first hearing will be conducted on 10th December 2018.



Though not deaf himself, Nipun got the ball rolling for a common cause for the deaf society. Today his cause has gained the support from the National Association of the Deaf. Dr. Alim Chandani, a graduate from Rochester Institute of technology, who happens to be deaf has also signed on as a co- petitioner. With the sign language still being ignored, there remains a severe lack of people who can read the signs or understand those suffering from hearing ailments. It is because of this reason that Nipun went on to start his petition.


According to a survey conducted by the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, 70 Million people in India suffer from disabilities, of which 6.3% suffer from the loss of hearing. People with this disability are often not understood because it is a disability which is not visible. If the sign language is legally recognised it will help in the development and understanding of the language.



Even with such a large percentage of disabled people, India only implemented its first disability law in the year 1995! Due to this approach, it is obvious that people with disabilities have to often bear witness, till date, to a hostile and non-welcoming environment by others. This happens more because people are less aware and insensitive towards those who behave and look any different than them. Also, there is a general perception that a disability of any kind means one is incapable of emotions and understanding, which makes life more difficult for these gifted people on a whole.


The government introduced the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the year 2000- 2001, which aimed at universalization of elementary and primary school education for every child, free of cost across India. In a slightly different context, in December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested that the term ‘viklaang’ (person with disability) be replaced by “divyaang” (person with divine body). In any society, changing the term alone doesn’t change perceptions. Nipun faced extreme challenges as he tried to get a ‘normal’ education, which his parents had wished for. Sadly even after implementing all these laws, most schools are hesitant to accept students with disabilities. They try and forward them to schools designed to handle children with “special needs”. As alarming as it may sound, according to the 2011 Census report, 45% of India’s disabled population is still illiterate and devoid of the basic right to equal education.


In 2015, the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre was established and it compiled a dictionary of 3000 words in the sign language.


Till the time the lack of understanding and awareness prevails, thousands of deserving people will get left out and ignored. There was a time when after the 1st grade, Nipun’s mother was called and was told by the Principal that, though, he had cleared his tests he wasn’t going to get promoted to the next class. This just because of his illegible handwriting. People till date still look at the disability first, and not at the individual and the efforts that they put in.



Those who are blessed with able bodies need to understand that everyone is temporarily abled and at a later stage they may encounter an injury or get hurt. They need to accept the people with disabilities the way they are, and judge them for what they can do, rather than highlighting what they can’t. Encourage the able students to interact with those who are disabled, which will help students grow with empathy and compassion, in a world which is heading towards hatred and ignorance.


As we leap towards a more and more “modern” age, there is also a modern concept that people at large need to embrace. One needs to ignore the “dis” and focus on the abilities, and that will happen when the 3 A’s -- attitude, accessibility and affordability -- are improved on. Till date, heavy taxes are levied on disability aids like wheelchairs, hearing aids and braille keypads, which is absurd considering the number of people who face such extreme conditions.


The efforts put in by Nipun over all these years have helped bring a ray of hope into the lives of so many. The one thing that he insists the younger generation needs to do is to accept people irrespective of the disabilities that they suffer from and make it an easier place for them to live in. After all, everyone deserves to live a life of equal opportunities and success.

With pure hearts and determination, these kids are make a difference.



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