Taha Haaziq, Secretary at the Office of the State Commissioner for the Persons with Disabilities, Goa

This article was contributed by Kalyani Jha and published in The Navhind Times on 1st January 2023

Purple Fest, India’s first-of-its-kind inclusive fest to be held from January 6-8, 2023 aims to create an inclusive world for everyone. Secretary at the Office of the State Commissioner for the Persons with Disabilities, Goa; Taha Haaziq gives NT NETWORK an insight into the fest.

  1. As a person with full visual impairment, tell us about your experience as one of the coordinators for the Purple Fest.

I would say the experience has been wonderful. If you look at all the organisations that are a part of the organising team, be it The Directorate of Social Welfare or The Entertainment Society of Goa, the focus has been on the ability of every employee and not the disability. It is a lovely thing to see everyone just working together. I have people in my group who are blind, orthopedically disabled, or have a hearing impairment. But not once have any of the staff come up and told us, “No, that person will not be able to do it. Please provide me with somebody else.”

  1. How challenging has the process of putting the fest together been so far?

The festival will have more than 90 events. So it is huge and challenging for us. It is a new concept, it is a risk, but we know we will be able to do it. We do not know if it will be 100% successful but we will make a mark for sure.

  1. Will the festival be more of a learning experience for persons with disability or will it be more of an eye opener for the world around to be more aware and accepting of persons with disability?

It will be both. The think tank sessions which are lined up right from the Deaf Blind Convention to Access India Convention, to employment, education and sports section, everything is a step towards empowering persons with disabilities (PswD).

The festival will also be a great opportunity to sensitise society using our six experience zones. We also have sensitisation movies for regular schools. I’m expecting almost 2000 students from regular schools visiting the festival every day. There will also be education for architects and civil engineers on how to design homes for persons with disabilities right from bedrooms and toilets to living rooms. There will be a lot for people to see and experience.

  1. When it comes to persons with disabilities, there is a huge gap between their actual needs and what the government provides.

The government is providing schemes, but there is a lack of awareness about these. There are schemes that are not reaching the end user. Apart from the government, there are many NGOs who are working on a lot of issues in Goa like early intervention and all-inclusive education. They are like guiding forces in terms of what are the rights and what is exactly available for a person with disabilities.

But at the same time, there are some people who are not ready to accept their disability. That is wrong. It is essential that one has to first get their certification done to get your unique disability identity card, after which you can avail of these government schemes. But only once you accept your disability does the factor of getting government and everybody sensitised come in.

  1. Persons with disabilities and their families still face stigma from society. How can this be tackled?

People’s mindsets have to change. Families of persons with disabilities are still hesitant to talk about the disabilities and problems. This is especially true for female persons with disability as the family feels that if they open up, it will affect the girl’s marriage prospects. Hopefully this fest will change this. Through the Jagruti Mela at the fest, we will try to educate parents on various issues. We will also be setting up a marriage bureau there. Frankly speaking, even if we deliver 50 to 55% we feel we will have made progress in the days to come.

  1. Education and technology are enablers for persons with disabilities today. But technology, unless it is extended in a big way, remains costly. The numbers also are often small as far as disability is concerned. How can we overcome this dichotomy?

In terms of education, digital literacy has become very affordable. Under the ADIP scheme (Aids and Appliances Scheme), a student is eligible to get a smartphone. Now a smartphone with a USB keyboard works like a laptop. We have various organisations which give laptops to regular students that can also be extended to persons with disabilities.

When we talk about digital literacy, content is the biggest issue. We currently have two libraries. One is a US-based library called Bookshare which has more than 40 lakh accessible books. There are books on various genres right from leisure to education. University and even Goa board and NCERT books are available.

The second library is the Sugamya Pustakalaya initiated by National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities in collaboration with the Tata Consultancy Services. We are moving in the right direction and I believe in some time we will have complete digitisation. Even now, I know people who are visually impaired who are writing their own exam papers using their laptops. A few universities have started doing this. Even the Goa board has now said that if anybody requires and is confident enough to type their own papers, they are ready to provide accessible PDF documents.

  1. Purple Fest will set high standards and raise huge expectations. Is the government of Goa prepared for meeting these?

Yes. We are planning to document all our think tank sessions, and whatever is required to be taken into policy will be submitted. There should be a proper impact after the festival.