Grandma's Tales

July 25, 2007

Kalam is a friend of disabled people

Filed under: My Other Avtaar — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:42 am

You must have heard of this quote: You must go when people ask “why” and not wait till they say “why not”. Well, Kalam is going and the whole nation (with some notable exceptions) is asking “Why?”
In a recent issue of Success & ABILITY, I carried three stories in which Kalam was the hero. Every disabled person that met him came away with the feeling that they had just met a long lost friend. It will be good to meet with him at Anna University. when he takes up his teaching post.
Here is the speech he delivered at an event to honour people with disabilities.
03-12-2005 : New Delhi
Empower the People with Special Abilities

I am indeed delighted to participate in the National Award function for the Welfare of people with special abilities. I realize that it is very important to recognize outstanding employees, employers, placement officers, individuals, institutions and creative disabled persons from different walks of life. My greetings to all the awardees, who have worked consistently for many years, to achieve this recognition. I would suggest the Ministry may request all the State Governments to nominate a Project Director or a full time commissioner who will be responsible for ensuring the filling up of 3% reserved jobs by suitable special ability candidates under the supervision of an overall coordinator in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. When I am with you I would like to share with you an incident which took place yesterday.
<a href="http://presidentofindia" rel="nofollow">http://presidentofindia</a>

My experience with a special boy
I met Shri Siddharth Jayakumar at Chennai airport, who was born in Chikmagalur in Karnataka in the year 1980. He gave me a presentation using a laptop. His Fatherýs name is Shri Jayakumar and his Motherýs name is Komala. When he was born the doctors did not know what he was suffering from. Later on, they said he is mentally retarded. After detailed examination, it was found that he was suffering from Cerebral Palsy. As a result of this disease he has difficulty in co-ordination between his mind and body. He studied in Vidyasagar at Chennai. Though he studied very well, he has to dictate the answers to another student while writing the examination. In spite of this process in the 10th class examination he had scored 80%. He says he could not score more just because he was not allowed to do the practical and could not draw the diagrams. In the plus two examination, he had secured an overall 90% and scored 100% in computer science. It is pertinent to note that he is the only boy to score 100% in this subject. Later he studied B.Com and scored 75%. He wanted to study Master in Social Work whereas he was given M.A. Economics in the Loyola College. He has scored 78% in his final examination. Shri Siddharth after completing his M.A., worked as a teacher in Vidyasagar itself. Later he attended Disability Job Fair organized by Ability Foundation, an NGO working for the welfare of the disabled. In the job fair he was selected by ABN Amro looking at his academic track record. ABN Amro has designated him as an Officer for verifying the export and import documents of the clients. To enable him to perform this job ABN Amro has trained him to learn the banking and import and export procedures of countries like Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. He is the first student to be employed with Cerebral Palsy outside Vidyasagar. He loves Mathematics. He has a mission of carrying out social work particularly for uplifting the life of special people with multiple disabilities. What a beautiful thought. The experience of Shri Siddharth clearly brings out the special strengths available with certain people with some disabilities. Our social system and the educational institutions must recognize the strengths of the individual and provide the opportunity for these flowers to blossom. Here I am reminded of Ramanujan’s early experience.

Friends, the genius in Ramanujan had to be discovered by Prof. Hardy. This has been cryptically remarked at that time by Poondi Namasivaya Mudaliar with anguish, “It is the destiny of our nation that an Indian brain requires an acknowledgement from a foreigner. Why our people are hesitant to appreciate such a personality.”

In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that it was Prof. Hardy who discovered Ramanujan for the world. Professor Hardy rated various geniuses on a scale of 100. While most of the mathematicians got a rating of around 30 with rare exceptions reaching to 60, Ramanujan got a rating of 100. There cannot be any better tribute to either Ramanujan or to Indian heritage. Thus, our past is replete with example of our not being able to recognize our wealth. I am narrating these instances to you so that the teachers, educational institutions, employers, and the societal organizations become sensitive to the strengths of people with special abilities and provide them an opportunity to lead a normal life not through sympathy but through empowerment.

Recently, when I addressed the school children in Delhi, they asked me that why there is no reservation for mentally challenged children. From the examples which I described I consider there is a merit in the observation made by the boy. I would consider that there is a need to examine the feasibility of providing certain reservations for certain types of mentally challenged children also so that they can be deployed on certain jobs which they can perform efficiently. Today I met a girl Aditi Dubey who is hearing impaired and had participated in the roller skating marathon competition and successfully skated between Delhi to Jaipur distance 256 kilo meters. She was the youngest among the 21 participants. She is doing all her activities beautifully. It shows that how a person can defeat the impairment and succeed.

In this connection, I appreciate the action taken by Sakthi Masala, Erode (Tamil Nadu), who are employing physically challenged persons for many of their production activities. Thirty-two per cent of its employees were physically challenged and they are also rehabilitating mentally challenged persons. I would request the other corporate and government establishments to emulate this model. Now I would like to talk about rehabilitation of visually challenged people.
Conquest of vision challenges through technology tools

Last year I had announced about the launching of the Speech Applet by 26th January 2005, during my participation of the awards ceremony for the people with special abilities in December 2004. I am happy to mention that the Speech Applet developed by my friends which provides a speech interface to my website for the visually disabled persons has been launched on 26 Jan 2005. It has been made available to all, through my website for download, so that it can be configured at their web servers to provide a speech interface for the visually challenged persons. It has been used by many institutions that are imparting training to the visually challenged persons for making the content available and accessible. It has also been used by visually challenged individuals. On an average there are 8000 hits on this site and around 4500 used the applet for reading the text. You can download the Virtual Vision software from

In addition, I would like to mention that Arushi, a NGO based in Bhopal has made Braille of the English version of Wings of Fire and Ignited Minds and they are giving to the blind schools at the cost price. Similarly, Shri Gandhi Kannadasan has made the Braille of the Tamil version of Wings of Fire and is supplying free to blind schools and social organizations. Arushi has also made the Braille of 140 exhibits of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Children’s Art Gallery in both English and in Hindi. We have made the Tactile Garden with Braille board to explain about the herbal plants and flowers. Over thousand children are visiting this garden every year.

As a next step, we are working with the R&D institutions to integrate the speech interface with the open source operating systems in English and other Indian languages. In order to make it available in a cost effective manner, we are working towards providing a speech interface through the indigenously developed handheld PC to visually challenged persons. These hardware, software integrated system can be called as Virtual Vision. The government agencies and various private organizations can take up this mission of development and production of Virtual Vision. Now I would like to talk about the problem of hearing impaired.
My Experience with Cochlear Implants

When I visited Vikram hospital in Coimbatore few years back, I realized technological intervention is possible for bringing back hearing to the deaf and dumb children by implanting a device called Cochlear Implant. Dr. Aruna Viswanathan and her You must go when people ask “why” and not wait till they say “why not”. team demonstrated to me about the whole process of implanting the device and the subsequent training procedure to the children. I saw 4 year old deaf and dumb children. After one of month of implanting and training they spoke out few words legibly. After 6 months of computer-aided training, I have seen the children speaking normally. This touching scene moved me. I felt that I have to work to bring the cost of cochlear implant down, so that thousands and thousands of children in India and abroad can afford to have this device and lead a normal life.
Beautiful Mission of Corporate Industry

The people who are otherwise healthy in body and mind get isolated because of deafness. Helen Keller says if ýI were to be born again with physical impairment, I would prefer to be blind rather than deaf, as deafness isolates moreý. Hence it is essential to empower each child or adult with profound hearing impairment with cochlear implant as the child will be able to hear its father and mother apart from music. I would like to narrate one experience, which took place on 2nd October 2005 at Rashtrapati Bhavan. To mark the 60th Anniversary of Mahindra & Mahindra, the management decided to donate 60 cochlear implants to hearing impaired. I inaugurated this programme. The other corporate groups and social institutions spread in different parts of the country can also participate in this noble societal mission and donate a certain number of cochlear implants to the needy patients. The Government on its part can provide 150% weighted deduction of such contribution for purposes of computing income tax.
Indigenous Manufacturing of Critical support systems

Some development activity has been initiated to design, develop and manufacture low cost cochlear implants in the country. This should be taken up in a mission mode by at least two groups and we should aim at bringing out the basic cochlear implant without frills. For example, I understand that the number of electrodes needed for realizing reasonable audibility is just seven whereas manufacturers use ten, sixteen and twenty two. Electro Physiologists for ears confirm that the audibility improvement beyond seven electrodes is very marginal and the designers should keep this in mind. I am sure the scientists, engineers, and the medical community of our country will be able to take this challenge and bring out a cochlear implant within the next two years costing less than Rs. 1 lakh. In this direction, I appreciate the initiative taken by DRDO. We must succeed in this development, so that we can offer this product to many needy patients, spread in different parts of the world. I would request the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to catalyze this programme. Here I would like to read out the contents of a e-mail received from Mr. Sudhir.
“I am the father of a profound hearing impaired boy who got his cochlear implant (CI) at the age of two and a half years. CI has saved my child life and two years after his operation now he has joined Eurokids’ world famous pre-school along with the normal children. He is studying two languages simultaneously. I humbly request your good offices to issue necessary orders to
(a) Finance – for abolishing the custom duty and sales tax for import of implants and notifying the income-tax exemption to the corporate who donate CIs.
b) Health – to approve the CI as an accepted treatment and include it in the CGHS list. They can work out the details in consultation with the CI group of India Surgeons.
c) Commerce – to issue a circular to the corporate sector to consider the CI reimbursement cases sympathetically. It can also invite the cochlear manufacturer to set up production in India.”
I am reading out this e-mail so that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment can take appropriate action for helping the people with profound hearing impairment.
Now I would like to discuss my experience in Loni during October 2005.

My Experience in Loni (A Rural Development Complex)
Pravara Medical Trust of Loni (Maharashtra) decided to fit atleast 1000 Floor Reaction ORthosis (FROs) to polio affected patients. Dr. Narendranath of NIMS, Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Executive (Brahmos), Chairman (ALIMCO), Pravara Medical Trust and NGOs worked together and arranged screening of over 3200 polio affected people around Loni village during the month of August 2005. On screening they found that 1200 people will benefit through the fitment of FROs. Dr. Narendranath and his team went to Loni arranged the training of local doctors and created a local FRO fitment centre. With the supervision of NIMS doctor, the local doctor commenced the fitment of FROs during September and completed the fitment of 1000 cases well before the end of September. I met all the people fitted with FROs in an interactive meeting at Loni on 15th October 2005. It was a beautiful feeling to see the smiles in the faces of children and adults with a newly fitted FROs. The creation of a fitment centre will enable Loni doctors to maintain the existing patients and also help fitment of FROs to new patients needing such fitment. Conclusion

Some time back, the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Hyderabad, had conducted a sports meet for all the physically & mentally handicapped children at National Stadium Hyderabad. In one race.., Nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 mtr race. At the starting signal, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, others except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back……every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked their arms together and walked together and finally reached the destination. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course. I would say that, you do not have to slow down. Rather by helping difficult areas, the feed back will make you go faster. If you pass this on, we may be able to change our hearts as well as someone else’s. “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle”.

Once again I congratulate all the award winners and wish you all success in your mission of bringing smile on the faces of all the people with special abilities in the country through technology.

May God bless you.



  1. Very interesting and then as chance would have it, I wrote the following post on the Indian Economy blog and the reactions speak for themselves. Most discussants are more interested in the veracity of statistics quoted and rejected than in the issue of inclusion and the path to that inclusion.

    What do you think?

    Comment by Shefaly — August 1, 2007 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Shefaly,
    Very happy to see you here again. I read the post and the comments and I’m not surprised at the responses at all. These responses validate your argument about lack of awareness and poor attitudes. Disability in India is a very complex issue starting with the thinking that one is born or becomes disabled because of sins committed in the previous birth. It reaches a point where non-disabled people say, “When people without disabilities are desperately looking for jobs, how do you expect full employment for disabled persons?” Lack of access is another issue we can write a book on. Let’s keep writing about it, Shefaly. Somewhere we will make a difference.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — August 2, 2007 @ 10:42 am | Reply

  3. Thank you Mrs P, for your kind words and encouragement. I read your blog but amid a lot of chaos in my new house, I could not find a quiet moment in my head to write my thoughts 🙂

    I was a guest writer on IndianEconomy blog until end of July and I do not know if with such ferocious responses, I will continue or not. I have addressed issues that nobody was discussing on the blog which itself was created to read the kind of writing the creators did not find but wanted to read. I can of course write on my own blog which I do off and on.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Shefaly — August 2, 2007 @ 11:00 am | Reply

  4. Very welcome, Shefaly. Now, why don’t you write a post on how to respond to blog posts? You could make an etiquette list. And I’m not joking!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — August 3, 2007 @ 8:36 am | Reply

  5. Ah that would be very difficult terrain. In the name of anonymity many people resort to behaviours that would not be condoned in civil society…

    I think most bloggers set some sort of boundaries and retain editorial control. I do the former, but not the latter on my own blog. I entertain all kinds of comments, in the name of freedom of speech and debate. Recently an Indian reader (not anonymous) implied that I was racist – by which he meant that I am more likely to dismiss an example of bad behaviour from white people than from Asians/ Indians. The other blog I mentioned I write critiques of Indian behaviours and attitudes and get brick-bats for that. I think it shows how hard it is to define some rules and hope there will be compliance 🙂

    But will consider. Once the thesis is finished, I may contribute some to WaterNoIce as well about which I have had some correspondence with Vidya.


    Comment by Shefaly — August 4, 2007 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  6. Great! I shall definitely look forward to reading your articles on WNI. More power to your keyboard fingers!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — August 4, 2007 @ 8:16 pm | Reply

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