Groups of people with disabilities organised a “Walk on wheels” in six districts of the country, meeting local officials. Organisers do not want handouts, only the possibility of being independent.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – March 1st was International Wheelchair Day; for the first time, the day was observed in Sri Lanka.
To celebrate it, the Association of Persons with Disabilities held a “Walk on wheels” in six districts of the country: Matara, Colombo, Kandy, Kurunegala, Puttalam and Moneragala.
The aim of the initiative was to raise awareness about public attitudes towards people on wheelchairs and send a message to the government.
About 8.7 per cent of the Sri Lankan population lives with some form of disability: 57 per cent are men and 43 per cent are women.
In 2007, 160 countries, including Sri Lanka, signed the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Fifteen years later, disabled Sri Lankans still complain that its provisions have not yet been implemented.
“The Supreme Court upheld the lawfulness of the convention, but its has not yet been implemented,” said Tikiri Kumara Jayawardana, head of the "Walk on the Wheels" tour, speaking to AsiaNews.
“The problem is about accessibility. New buildings continue to be built in big cities, with washrooms still inaccessible to wheelchairs. You cannot take the bus or even go to the hospital.
“Only those confined to a wheelchair can understand this situation, but society and the authorities show little or no sensitivity towards us.”
Yashoda Jayaratne, 33, suffered spinal cord injuries after undergoing leukemia treatment.
“We do not need special attention, only that the government implements what we need,” she explained. “People should put themselves in our position.”
In Colombo, the “Walk on wheels” started from the Galle Face Green urban park and made its way to the President's House, where participants were met by the presidential secretary who accepted a letter with the group’s requests and said that it would be handed to the president.
“We do not want people with disabilities to rely on a welfare mindset," said Nisha Sharif, a group leader from Kandy district and chairperson of “For Rights, we are” organisation.
“With the exception of people with complex disabilities and disabled seniors, we do not want to be limited to the Department of Social Services.
“We ask for suitable levels of employment, a decent job, and the right to live as ordinary citizens without being a burden not only on society but also on ourselves.”
In Sharif’s view, the Sri Lankan government should pursue this, adding that, “All the groups of the six districts met with their respective governors and local authorities. informing them of their situation.”