Q. Tell us about yourself and your childhood memories.
I am from Stok village of Leh district and was diagnosed with a disability at the age of 8. When I was small, I kept falling ill and do not remember the exact cause of my illness very clearly but I slightly remember that I fell and got injured. I got operated on and hospitalized for around six to seven months. After that got bedridden for a long time and had to quit my school and was able to study till Class 1.
Gradually with the support of a walking stick, I managed to walk and one day, while listening to a radio I came across the training opportunity provided by the handicraft department. I joined the training and learned thanka painting and other art from Ka Angchuk, Olthang pa for almost 4 to 5 years.
Apart from painting, I love writing tsoms, poems and filmmaking. I used to shoot in Pagir and also worked on a documentary film on PAGIR-themed ‘Jungwa’. I don’t get much time but during my free time, I do paint.
Q. You are working as a President of the People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights PAGIR. Could you tell us more about PAGIR, its work, and the role it played in changing social perception?
PAGIR was founded by Late Mohd. Iqbal along with three other co fellows in the year 2007, for an equitable and inclusive society for the people with disability in the Ladakh region. I met Founder PAGIR, Late Mohd Iqbal, and Achay Kunzang in the year 2007 and worked as a member till 2013-14. After that, for almost two years I was running a small shop in Choglamsar and rejoined PAGIR. This is my third year serving as the president of PAGIR.
PAGIR focuses and works on developing an inclusive environment for the specially-abled person. It awares disabled people about their rights and promotes their participation in various activities and empowers them economically. Today in PAGIR there are around 500 members, 12 staff, 15 board members, and 10 advisors.
A solarised hostel building is in the line of the inauguration and once it becomes functional 20 people will be accommodated. The hostel will not be a place to lock them up will be more of a skill training centre. PAGIR along with its aim to work for the rights of persons with disabilities is also working towards environment protection themed, ‘Jungwa Shrungskyob’. It is a social program initiated by PAGIR to reduce pollution and conserve nature. The differently-abled members of Pagir turn the waste materials into usable products like carrying bags, cushions, face masks, decorative items, purses, pen stands, file covers, etc.
Q. What do you think about how society behaves toward disabled persons? Do they get equal treatment in society?
Society’s attitude toward specially-abled people is changing but we can’t say that there are no issues. People with disabilities face discrimination in every aspect of their lives- health, education, and work- lack of social inclusion and exposure. There are many cases, especially in far-flung areas where many disabled people are not getting their due rights. We still come across families who are reluctant to give information about disabled children. They are kept inside without any exposure from an early age with no friend circles and people to talk to thus categorized as disabled. Many are deprived of physiotherapy, speech therapy, and many other treatments because of not disclosing their disability.
The acceptance of one’s disability by near and dear ones can make a lot of contributions to one's confidence.
The lack of inclusive and accessible public spaces and buildings is also a concern. Today we see many public spaces and government buildings that are not disabled-friendly. While on the other hand effort is also made to bring change. Some of the changes may require very little investment, while others may require a bit more planning and expense. Either way, an important tip worth remembering is that a little thoughtfulness goes a long way and improved access is easily achievable when the perspective of disabled people is taken into consideration. I hope with greater awareness and collaborations we will see more disabled-friendly spaces in the future.
Q. Is there a barrier and challenges to inclusive education for students with a disability?
Education is very important and I must say that every child should get it. In Ladakh, the challenges and barriers to inclusive education for students with disability are not much but there needs a lot of understanding and awareness regarding inclusive education. Inclusive education—which fully engages all students, including students with disabilities or other learning challenges, in quality education—has proven particularly effective in helping all students learn, even while challenges to implementing inclusive education systems remain. A disabled child might need special attention and time to understand, and thus need special strategies, plans, and recommendations. Although students with disability are getting enrollment in private schools but have come across that they are being dropped and asked to change schools because they are taking time to learn. A special school is there but we stress inclusive education because it will give more exposure, inclusion, and quality education. Similarly, sports facilities in Ladakh shall be made accessible for persons with disabilities and initiatives shall be taken up to encourage the participation of PwDs in sports activities.
Q. What are various government schemes for a specially-abled person?
Recently, the Social & Tribal Welfare Department, UT Ladakh has come up with Unique Disability Identity Card (UDID) for the person with disabilities which is being issued. The UDID card will be the single document of identification, and verification of the disabled for availing various benefits in the future. Many people are still not aware and are not applying for the card, I appeal to everyone to apply and avail the benefits. Surveys are important for updated data to identify children and the type and degree of disability so that crucial medical help and requisite support can be provided.
Message to readers
"When we talk about change and creating an inclusive environment for disabilities, action is needed. Social inclusion and exposure are must change the lives of specially-abled people."