National Seminar on Adult Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities

(including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism and multiple disabilities)

November 8, 2008
Auditorium, India International Center, New Delhi

About the Seminar

In recent years, important changes in public policies and attitudes have resulted in improved opportunities for people with physical and mental disabilities. Although people living with physical disabilities have assumed their rightful place in society in many aspects, societal attitudes have changed less in regard to those with severe disabilities (including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and multiple disabilities). Needless to say, a broad range of non-government organizations (NGOs) and other civil society organizations (CSOs) have directed their efforts to improve the effectiveness, quality, and sustainability of Government schemes, but these have been largely in the areas of health and education. There has been a general reluctance to address the adult needs of this population. In fact, even formal research efforts in this area have been very limited.

In an attempt to address the abovementioned gap, the Society for Child Development (SFCD) is organizing a National Seminar on November 8, 2008 as an effort to look at the two main adult needs of people with severe disabilities, namely Sexual Health and Employment.

Brief Background

Sexual Health: In the past, preventive health concerning sexuality of people with severe disabilities was managed through surgical sterilization. It has come progressively to light in the scientific literature from the west that, besides major ethical and legal problems, these programs also failed to address many of the individual's needs in sexual health. The fact that most people with disabilities, both intellectual and physical live in the community rather than in institutions has heightened awareness that these individuals have sexual expectancies, desires, and needs that must be supported through both education and health services. These needs vary widely from one individual to another, according to life milieu, level of disability, and potential co-morbidity. Hygiene management, global gynecological care, and prevention of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse have been frequently identified as areas in which the presence of severe disability dictates specific support needs. The Indian society is very closed in discussing sex and related matters. As a result there is very little information that is documented, and from the bits that are, it is evident that the efforts made have largely been in the domain of biological perspectives and rarely in the psychosocial context.

The seminar will cover a wide range of topics that seek to expose the audience to the widespread exclusion of persons with severe disabilities in any matter related to sex, sexuality, marriage and reproduction; and in the process also suggest interesting, low-cost and simple methods of changing this. The legal diktats that summarily restrict and then deny any hope for fulfillment will be discussed in detail and recommendations for modification of the concerned laws made.

Employment: The dismal employment scenario is well-known. Presentations and discussions will center on innovative and replicable experiences that have the power of changing the oft-encountered situation of learned helplessness that justifies the person's lack of employment under the garb of societal indifference. We are aware that this does not necessarily have to be so.

Objectives

The Seminar, a day-long event, is designed to be more than just a gathering to discuss and debate issues, it is a chance for all to share experiences and learn from each other, and in doing so, understand the current state and the future of these young adults in an age marked by drastic societal transformations. The Seminar would essentially focus on the parental perspectives of children/young adults with severe disabilities, legal perspectives emanating thereof, and ensuing research initiatives in this area.

The sole objective of the seminar is to bring together the voices of researchers, academicians, professionals, and parents on a single platform and to come out with pragmatic solutions that would lead to greater community awareness and relevant future research in this area. As a conscious effort, the seminar aims to go beyond the predictable and provide fresh perspectives by examining ways in which more inclusive forms of participation and development of these young adults can be attained, by giving them equal opportunities in all walks of life.