For a disabled person, a disability certificate is an Very Important Document.
A Disability Certificate is required to avail of the benefits under various schemes of the Central and State governments. These include scholarships for students with disabilities and schemes for loans for self-employment of disabled persons. Disabled persons are entitled to concessional fares for railways travel (for themselves as well as for one companion).
These concessions and schemes for their benefit are intended to make the life of a disabled person a bit easier.
However, obtaining a disability certificate is a tortuous process which certainly makes his/her life more difficult.
I had not intended to write the following, here on this blog, but I do want to narrate some interesting experiences I have had because of my disability, so here goes…
For the past few years I have been somewhat disabled because of a neurological condition -‘Multiple Sclerosis’. Mainly I have difficulty in walking, balance problems, and fatigue. Also, depending on whether it’s a good day or a bad one, there are frequently ‘fun’ symptoms such as vision problems, not being able to tell hot from cold, or wet from dry, etc.
After I was diagnosed I went to the Mumbai office of the MS society (an NGO helping MS patients), to see what information I could get on this not so common (in India) disease. The Secretary of the Society was there, and was very helpful.
She also urged me to come again after a fortnight, when they were having a disability certificate camp- in effect- co-ordinating between disabled people with MS and the officials issuing the certificates.
MS typically affects young adults, between the ages of twenty and forty years. They need this disability certificate for concessions at their places of employment. Also if the disability is severe, then some tax concessions are also available. NGOs also ask for these certificates before giving monetary assistance to needy MS patients.
Since I was not employed/ in need of a business loan, it was not really necessary for me to obtain a certificate. However, she convinced me that if I ever had need for it in the future, it would be difficult to get one on my own, so I should participate in the camp they had organised. It took many days and many rounds of government offices before an individual patient could get a disability certificate.
Accordingly, I went back to their office on the specified day. If anyone is interested in witnessing a classic example of our Indian Bureaucracy in Action, I suggest they attend a camp like this.
The time specified was eleven in the morning. Eleven o’clock came and went. The thirty-odd people with MS had all come early and were waiting patiently. The Secretary of the Society was on the telephone trying to get some action from the officials concerned. Finally she got the doctor who was to conduct the examinations, on the phone.
He was at lunch with friends, he said, and could not come.
But all the patients were here, said the agitated Secretary, and some had come from far-off suburbs of Mumbai.
Finally he agreed to send a junior doctor instead, to examine the people applying for the certificates and their documents, MRI reports, neurologist’s reports, etc.
After another hour the doctor showed up.
Now, the doctor has to certify that the applicant has at least 40% disability for him/her to be eligible for a certificate. I thought that there would not be any problem in that case, as all of us seemed (to me) to have at least that much level of disability.
At that time I did not yet need a cane, and was surprised when the lady next to me thrust one into my hand. The doctor wouldn’t believe I had MS, unless I used a cane, she told me in a low voice- The only symptoms doctors understood were mobility problems.
As I watched the doctor question each person turn by turn, I realized she was right. The doctor asked his questions in a highly sceptical tone, and looked at the applicant suspiciously as if to suggest he/she was lying. He did not seem to know much about MS, I did not know how he intended to make an informed judgement.
When my turn came he asked me some questions, then told me to walk a few steps. (Visions of a typical ‘Vadhu Pariksha’ from a hundred years ago flashed through my mind!- Let’s see if the prospective bride is able to walk straight without a limp...)
I walked across the room using the cane my new friend had so kindly given me.
I could walk quite well– the doctor observed, and wrote something on the paper in front of him. But didn’t any other problems count?– I asked silently. Some people with MS could walk well, but were disabled in other ways.
Finally he finished examining everyone. The senior doctor would prepare the certificates, he said. Everyone would get permanent certificates.
And what were permanent certificates? They were those which did not need to be renewed every five years, because the disability in MS does not change.
At that point I began to pay attention to what he was saying, a bit more carefully. Since MS is a progressive disease, I would have thought that the certificates would have to be renewed periodically, increasing the % of Disability specified.
But no. Neurologists specify in their reports that MS is a progressive disease, but the Ministry of Social Justice begs to differ.
The MS Society people had to make several rounds of the offices before the formalities could be completed, and everyone’s certificates were ready. But everyone did finally get them.
And the Secretary of the MS Society was absolutely right- I would never have been able to get a disability certificate on my own!