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There are approximately 1.6 million people with intellectual disabilities living in India. Almost 75 percent of them live in rural areas where the predominant and biggest sector is agriculture. So approximately 1.2 million intellectually disabled people who live in the rural areas of India could easily take part in agricultural processes. There are more than enough easy, repetitive work options that even unskilled people who suffer from any kind of intellectual disability can realise. Of course, agriculture is not the only sector where the employment of intellectually disabled individuals is possible. But still their potential is largely untapped. According to Disability Information Resources India (DIRI), an Indian association that collects statistics regarding disabled persons in India, only 0.66% of persons with intellectual disabilities are given employment.

A lot of children and adults with intellectual disabilities are abandoned. This is due to lack of governmental support and lack of awareness. Barriers are primarily rooted in wrong beliefs and misinformation. People believe that bad deeds in the previous life of parents cause intellectual disabilities among their children. Barriers in society such as wrong attitudes and physical obstructions hinder people with disabilities from being a part of their own community, receive the education they need and live up to their full potential.

The education of people with intellectual disabilities in India is an issue that a lot of NGOs are trying to address. There are limited governmental options. But still, it is not enough; tt is a question of availability of services. But, at least, there is a certain degree of education for intellectually disabled children available.

The issue gets way more serious once the children reach adulthood. There are limited to no opportunities for intellectually disabled people to continue their education when they finished special school. Vocational trainings specialised for the intellectually disabled or, even better, inclusive vocational training centres, are a rare thing. Sometimes, individuals get lucky. We’ve heard of a case where an intellectually disabled boy was able to get into training to become a mechanic. He was good and enthusiastic and once he finished he was eager to start working, earn his own income and become a contributor to society. But it was the same society that he so readily wanted to help that put an end to his dreams of living a free, self-sustaining and independent life. No one was ready to hire him. They saw his disability, not his abilities, skills and potential.

The main objective for addressing this issue should probably be to change people’s attitudes, to make them realise that intellectual disability is not a form of punishment for the parents but that it is a disease with a genetic cause. Excluding people because they are suffering from an intellectual disability would be the same as excluding somebody who has a cold or an allergy. But we can only change people’s attitudes by proving that their assumptions are wrong, by showing them that disabled people can be valuable stakeholders in many ways, including in the workforce. They may be slower in their way of thinking and they may need more instructions than non-disabled people, but they are ready to learn and to contribute to their society.

We at the Sristi Foundation have the mission to change the role that intellectually disabled individuals play in Indian society. We want to enable them to reach their full potential and teach them the skills they need to become independent contributors to society who generate their own income and live in dignity and self-sufficiency. We want to make people realise that the intellectually disabled are people just like everyone else – with their own feelings, dreams and aims in life.

Through various projects we try to empower intellectually disabled people in Indian society, to give them the education, self-confidence and skills they need to be able to access their potential and lead the dignified and happy lives they deserve. We have a Special School for young children with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders where they learn livelihood skills in a playful, adequate way. Our second project is a vocational training centre for disabled adults where they can learn how to produce handicrafts for sale as a way of generating income. The training is supposed to show the disabled their abilities and skills and strengthen their self-confidence.

Our most important project is the Sristi Village, an inclusive, eco-friendly and self-sustaining farm and village where our community members learn agricultural skills and help with all the different steps of the cultivation of crops and vegetables. Through this, they learn skills and get the feeling of being a needed and contributing member of a society that cherishes them and gives them the room to realize their potential and personalities.

It is our aim to establish an inclusive society where intellectually disabled and marginalised people can live up to their potential, learn, work and generate income together; where everyone is treated with the same respect, where everyone has his or her responsibilities and where one member is as valuable as the next. We want a society without barriers, without prejudices and without exclusion. We want a place where everybody can be him- or herself without being judged. We want to make a small step towards making the world a better place and hope to inspire many other individuals, institutions and companies to take part in this process. You can learn more about our work at http://www.sristivillage.org/.

Karthik Shankar