Though it is one of the many recorded in the city streets every day, his death was a wakeup call for all agencies concerned, as it exposed the delay by the police to locate him, and also the public apathy.
The incident highlighted a lack of system and the absence of convergence among departments, said Meenakshi Balasubramanian, project coordinator, Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice.
“At the moment, we can only think of a few ramps in public places for the disabled. There is no vision on how to address the needs of those with disabilities. There was a delay in filing of the complaint and it was not communicated on time, and the authorities concerned hadn’t taken cognisance of the fact that the missing person had an intellectual disability,” she added.
Meenakshi pointed out that the department for the welfare of the disabled should come up with an order or a procedure for the police and other agencies to follow in such cases.
“The problems of the disabled shouldn’t be bottled in the department. When I get lost, I need help from the police. What are we doing to get them to respond to needs of the disabled? This guidance for other agencies should come from the department. Their role doesn’t end with implementing schemes and disbursing funds,” she said.
Rekha Supriya, a special educator and parent of a special child, said, “Earlier, many would laugh at us when my son and I played badminton in the park. Today, after sensitising the public, their attitude has changed.”
However, B Radhakrishnan, member, All India Confederation of Organisations for Persons with Mental Disabilities, said sensitising the general public is a Herculean task.
“We have tried to reach the public a number of times, but it is difficult to communicate the difference between mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, etc,” he said.
However, when state machinery strived to make a difference by understanding their needs, the change can percolate to the other levels and reach the public, he pointed out. “Which is why we have been asking the police department to take the initiative to organise training programmes for their personnel,” he said.
Smitha Sadasivan, member, Disability Rights Alliance, said that sensitisation can make police more watchful of the persons who are wandering, looking lost or hassled. The awareness to reach out to these people would come only when the personnel understand their needs, she said.
For Siddharth Jayakumar, a writer and speaker who overcame cerebral palsy to make a mark for himself, successful sensitisation is when people look at the disabled as a person. “I don’t want to be looked at in an unusual way just because I have disabilities. Can’t they just look at me as another individual,” he asked.