Hosting of Ms Shakuntala Doley Gamlin, Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Government of India

On Monday and Tuesday 28-29 May, the Nossal Institute at the University of Melbourne, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade hosted a visit to Melbourne by Ms Shakuntala Doley Gamlin, Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) in the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The Secretary was accompanied by Joint Secretary Dr Prabodh Seth.

This visit was facilitated by A/Professor Nathan Grills from the Nossal Institute and Professor Bruce Bonyhady from the Melbourne Disability Institute.  It builds on their research in disability in India and is the culmination of a Development-For-All focus at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi.

As India is increasingly interested in addressing the most marginalised, having placed disability at the heart of policy, and Australia has a particular interest in fostering economic ties with India, Secretary Gamlin’s visit married these national interests with opportunities to learn from one another’s responses to disability.

Secretary Gamlin has particular interests in policy and practice, inclusive education and early intervention, and sports inclusion, which led her to meet with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and Training, national disability agencies, a number of local DPOs, international development agencies and various University departments and institutes.

On Monday 28 May, the Secretaries attended the launch of Melbourne’s Disability Institute.  This was followed by a dinner hosted by the Prof Jim McClusky (DVC Research) and Prof Simon Evans (PVC- International) which was held in honour of the delegation.  Over fifty distinguished guests were present including the Australia Disability Commissioner, Mr Alistair McEwan and the Chair of NDIA, Helen Nugent. They were treated to entertainment by performing arts group made up of people with disability: e.motion21.

On Tuesday 29 May, the Australia-India Institute and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences hosted the Secretary at a roundtable discussion on the promotion of disability inclusive policy and practices in India. Professor Craig Jeffrey, CEO and Director of Australia-India Institute welcomed Secretary Gamlin, discussant Professor Bruce Bonyhady and all guests to a discussion about Australia’s and India’s experiences and approaches to disability, and the inherent lessons to be learned from one another.

Professor Bonyhady shared from Australia’s recent advances with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Australia's National Disability Strategy, highlighting that a crucial component of NDIS’ success has been shifting resources for disability support through enabling self-determined allocations. Rights and resources are important focuses, yet inadequate to conquer “the quest for true inclusion”. Likewise, they do not encompass the family and community influences and roles in disability inclusion and rehabilitation. As such, NDIS fits into a “capability framework” wherein greater capabilities improve self-sufficiency, which decrease dependence and enhance self-actualisation – by which greater quality of life can be achieved. However, for all the benefits of independence, the accompanying and consequential isolation must also be taken into consideration. In this area, Australia can learn from India insofar as the family is integral to the wellbeing of the individual.

Market forces, societal attitudes and efficiencies are part and parcel of the disability inclusion equation. Joint Secretary Seth was pleased to share examples of aids and assistive devices factories operating solely at the hands of people with disabilities. He is working with the private sector through corporate social responsibility initiatives to expand the distribution of aids and assistive devices to beneficiaries across India. Secretary Gamlin added that some 600 NGOs are supported, consulted and monitored by her Department, and several are providing a model for inclusive employment opportunity creation. What her Department has learned from these examples provide not only experience and knowledge but also empathy, which is key in this whole issue.

Professor Glenn Bowes thanked all present for their contributions, and closed the discussion in affirming the great potential for collaboration, cooperation, learning and support between the two countries.

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A/Prof Nathan Grills