Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Age and disability

Advice - Disability, Sep '15
By Shampa Sengupta

Reader queries

Artwork credit: Prosenjit Pal
I'm a middle-aged single man living in Kolkata, closer to 50. In the last couple of years, I have developed joint and muscular pains in my legs, and though treatment is on, and in phases I feel better, the problem does not go away entirely. Could this be an onset of age-related disability? My family members feel I worry unnecessarily, but I have seen other family members suffer and their movements drastically reduced. Other than family support, do I have a right to expect any facilities in public places? Do I need a certification for my disability? If yes, how can I get it?
Anonymous, Kolkata

Dear Friend

Thank you for sending this question – this gives us an opportunity to bring in issues that we have not touched upon in Varta yet. First, we use a terminology ‘acquired disability’ for a whole range of disabilities, which a person acquires and is not born with. Old age related disabilities also fall into this category. But strangely enough there seems to be denial amongst us about old age disability. So a lot of people will say: “My grandfather can’t walk anymore, he’s bed-ridden”, or “My Mother is short of hearing these days”. They will talk about the related ailments but will never consider them as disabled, and more people seem to ask for disability certification in younger ages (there is no numerical data to substantiate this, but experiential evidence seems to support this theory and your question also seems to re-confirm it).

Though it is not possible for me to say in certain terms that your pains are an onset of age-related disabilities, there are reasons to believe that these can affect your mobility in a serious manner in later life. Like I mentioned earlier, our society does not connect old age problems with disability. For instance, the process of getting concessions for train journeys for senior citizens varies from that for persons with disabilities. The policies for ‘senior citizens’ and ‘persons with disabilities’ may have issues in common, but the policies don’t seem to recognize this.

However, any person who has a mobility problem should have access to specific facilities in public places, and these facilities don’t have to be different for people who have acquired disabilities as against people born with disabilities.

In order to claim any specific provisions and rights, one needs a certificate to prove their disability. It is sad but true that even if a person is visibly disabled, the authorities may ask for a piece of paper called the ‘disability certificate’ before providing even basic facilities to those who need them!

The process of procuring a disability certificate is not an easy task. The process is different in different states of India and it even varies from district to district in some states. We don’t have a uniform process throughout the country. As part of the main criteria for issuing a disability certificate, the authorities check the domicile of the person concerned and there is a measurement of 40% disability (which is highly controversial) that needs to be certified by a government doctor.

One usually ends up going to the concerned offices and hospitals several times to procure the certificate. There have been demands by disability activists and attempts by both central and state governments to simplify the process. Though changes have been seen when it comes to ‘obvious disabilities’, confusion still prevails.

Another major problem with regard to the disability certificate is that one needs different kinds of certificates for different purposes. So the one you require for getting job benefits will not be applicable if you want railway concessions. Also a certificate issued in one state is often not accepted in a different state. To combat this problem, some time back the National Platform for Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), a national level advocacy group, demanded a ‘uniform disability card’, which should be accepted nationally for all purposes. This demand of NPRD was acknowledged by the central government and the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment declared that a National Disability Card would soon be launched. However, months have passed, a central budget for the facility has also been announced, but neither the budgetary allocation earmarked for the project nor the detailed procedural rules have been announced.

If this answer brings more confusion to you, please accept that disability is a complex issue and we, as Indians, are yet to learn how to deal with disability issues. But if you personally feel the need for a disability certificate, please try to procure one. You will first need to go the appropriate government hospital for the doctor’s certification, and this will depend on which municipal ward of Kolkata you live in. As you are from the state of West Bengal, you can find more details from the office of the Disability Commissioner of West Bengal, which is located at 45 Ganesh Chandra Avenue, Kolkata 700 013, and their contact numbers are 0091 33 2237 4731 / 5379. You can email them at com.disabilitywb@gmail.com.

If you fail to get a disability certificate, please write in to vartablog@gmail.com and there will be activists and support organisations to help you.

Shampa Sengupta is a Kolkata-based activist working on gender and disability issues for more than 25 years. She is the founder of an advocacy group called Sruti Disability Rights Centre and is Executive Committee Member, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled. She will be happy to answer your queries on disability and related issues. Write in your queries to vartablog@gmail.com, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

When not researching Parkinson’s disease as part of his PhD from the University of Calcutta, Prosenjit Pal is busy with poetry, painting, music and films.


  1. A much needed information. Thanknyou shampa for clarifying and providing relevant information.

  2. Very nice; articulated! Onset of Senior citizen's mobility related issues (or disability) is a practical concern which requires accommodation.