Advani's legs were afflicted by polio and he uses a wheelchair. By the health ministry's classification, he would be certified as being more than 70% disabled and hence not fit to study medicine. For decades, policy makers, mostly 'non-disabled', have decided what persons with disabilities are capable of. That is why, a double amputee or even a mid-thigh amputee, who would be classified as having 85% or more of locomotor disability, would not be allowed to study medicine. "How can some people sitting at the top decide what people are capable of, in a blanket fashion? If people can prove they're able to do a certain job, without asking for too many concessions, they ought to pose no hurdles," said Advani, who was initially denied permission to study medicine. He then obtained a special permit from the then state health minister to study in Grant Medical College, Mumbai, and completed his MBBS in 1969.
Medical colleges have been opened up to people with locomotor disabilities, thanks to the 1995 Disability Act. But until very recently, these doctors were kept out of all central health service (CHS) jobs. It took four years of RTI appeals and legal tussles by Dr Satendra Singh, a doctor with disability, to change this policy.
Even though the health ministry has changed the policy for CHS jobs, discrimination continues in top institutions such as PGI Chandigarh, Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi and various ESI hospitals and medical colleges across the country. TOI has scanned copies of advertisements that state jobs under non-surgical disciplines only are reserved for persons with locomotor disabilities. Ironically, several MBBS graduates with disabilities who cleared the PG entrance exam have been allotted surgical disciplines. "Why allot us surgical disciplines and train us when these jobs are not open to us?" asked a student who is currently pursuing PG in orthopaedics.
In 2003, the MCI stipulated that only those with locomotor disability of the lower limbs between 50% and 70% can be given admissions in medical courses and the courts ensured that these persons could avail the 3% disability quota in medical colleges. Certain disciplines have also been opened for those with one arm affected. In the 12 years since, even if just 1% of those 3% MBBS seats were filled, it would amount to over a thousand doctors with locomotor disability.
Data on physicians with disability is not readily available internationally. But since 2000, associations of such doctors have been coming up in the US, the UK and Canada. In the UK, the General Medical Council has stated that a disability need not be a bar to becoming a doctor if the student can fulfill the demands of professional fitness to practise as a newly qualified doctor.
In India, encouraged by their increasing numbers and Dr Singh's victory, these doctors are coming together to fight for their rights. Recently, they formed a Google group called 'Doctors with Disability: Agents of Change'. "I had approached the Indian Medical Association for help; they ignored us. But our numbers are growing and we are confident that we can do this on our own," said Dr Singh.Source: Times of India 29 June 2015