PwD medical aspirants, disability certificates and discrimination: Activists, students speak up

Dr Satendra Singh claims that there are only 15 centres all over India that test the disability. He cites this as discrimination because "why only few test centres for PwDs?" he questions
Pic: Edex Live
Pic: Edex Live

This year has been a tough year for many medical aspirants and considering the journey they have been through with the NEET exam, it can be said that it is not a cakewalk. What comes as another persistent difficulty is the discrimination faced by Persons with Disabilities (PwD) medical aspirants. Persons with Disabilities (PwD) is the special category for helping the disabled in getting proper education and training in the medical field. Like everyone, these aspirants have also passed the NEET exam and will appear for counselling. But one pre-requisite is submitting the Disability certificate. 

Recently, Dr Laxmi who visited Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi claimed that the medical board stated her disability as 100 per cent. When she approached the court, the AIIMS (All India Institute Of Medical Sciences) said that the disability is less than 80% and not 100% as mentioned by the VMMC (Vardhman Mahavir Medical College) "experts". On September 14, 2022, the Delhi High Court ruled in her favour and she can appear in the counselling and pick a speciality of her choice. As per NMC (National Medical Council), candidates below 40 per cent and above 80 per cent disability will not be eligible for counselling. 

Discrimination and humiliation 

Even though this verdict is a victory for Dr Laxmi, what about those who couldn't approach the court? When EdexLive spoke to Dr Satendra Singh, MD, Founder of Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change and Professor of Physiology, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, he said this is "discrimination and humiliation" against the PwD medical aspirants. 

"It is sheer ignorance of the Board of Doctors. In spite of having UDID (Unique Disability ID), PwD medical aspirants are facing discrimination as their disability is being questioned and tested again and again." Singh claims that the Safdurjung Hospital has been practising this for several years and has shown many candidates as 100 per cent disabled. And the affected couldn't even voice their concerns, Singh adds. 

Singh claims that there are only 15 centres all over India that test for disability. He cites this as discrimination because, "Why only few test centres for PwDs?" he questions.  

Further, Singh raised a few questions: "Why are the Vardhman Mahavir Medical College - Safdarjung Hospital are being biased? Why are they giving 100 per cent disability to candidates frequently? Having said that, if the VMMC Safdarjung College is showing candidates' disability as 100 per cent then the reports by King George's Medical University will be questionable." Giving more details on this he said the UDID the disabled have was given by KGMU.  

Losing our best doctors

Sharing her thoughts on this, National Spokesperson, FAIMA (Federation of All India Medical Association), Dr Kaweri Dande said with discrimination issues like this, "We are losing the best doctors we have." Considering Dr Laxmi's case, Kaweri questioned "If parameters were met in the first place along with prima facia, why would Dr Laxmi approach the court?"

Further, Singh pointed out, "While the basic job is to ascertain if medical candidates will be able to facilitate the job, candidates with disabilities are facing sheer humiliation as they are asked to take off their callipers and crutches." There are also a few cases where the candidates are asked to perform squats without callipers, he adds.   

What about similar cases earlier?

Few sources said that even though the college declared many as 100 per cent disabled, they approached other centres where the candidates were actually eligible for counselling. Following this, they joined other colleges and are in good positions in the medical field. Here is what a few candidates who faced similar situations have to say.

Md Shaloo runs his own clinic in Rajasthan and finished his MD Dermatology in 2022. Sharing his personal experience with Safdurjung Hospital when he visited the hospital for a disability in 2019, Shaloo said, "There were no amenities in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) department of the Hospital." 

"The Board of Medical Education was on the first floor of the building which neither had a lift nor a ramp. It was very difficult for me to reach the first floor with the help of my crutches," he said. He also alleged, "Upon reaching the board, with great difficulty, one of the Head of the Department (HoDs) questioned why I was standing with the help of crutches and directed me to stand without them. Which I refused."       

Safdurjung termed Shaloo 90 per cent disabled while another test in SMS (Sawai Man Singh) Hospital, Jaipur, showed 75 per cent. "If we compare the two centres by how doctors are treated and respected, SMS Jaipur treated and respected doctors better than Shafdurjung as the latter mistreats the doctors," he claimed. 

Sharing more details on how PwD people are mistreated, Shaloo feels they, "...don't get the importance given to other people." Further, he adds, "The department thinks we cannot do any work. Because of which there is no proper distribution of work or duty."

Back in 2019

Similarly, Md Usman, who is pursuing his second-year MBBS at Autonomous State Medical College, Basti (ASMC, Basti) had a bad experience with Safdurjung Hospital. Suffering from the locomotive disability of lower and upper limbs, Usman visited Safdarjung Hospital for a disability test in 2019 after clearing the NEET exam.

Usman alleged that the doctors on the medical board questioned him. They asked me how he will be able to manage in this profession and said that he would fall into depression soon as he won't be able to make it as a surgeon. Refusing to believe in these comments as Usman wanted to be a Physician, he pursued the test. And he claims that the test result certified him as 100 per cent disabled. 

Further, he visited SMS Hospital in Jaipur where the test showed that he was 88 per cent disabled. As he was not eligible to meet the criteria, he visited Government Medical College & Hospital, Chandigarh which declared him as 80 per cent disabled. Finally, as he was eligible for NEET counselling and after clearing the first attempt, Usman is happily pursuing MBBS second year now. 

But recalling those days of suffering, Usman said, "The comments from Safdarjung Hospital staff have made me feel, for the first time, as if why am I alive with this disability." 

What can be a solution to this?

Satendra Singh suggested two solutions for the problem of examining the disability of PwD medical aspirants: 

1) The medical board should consist of a doctor with a disability

2) Disclosing the guidelines which are being followed

Shaloo stressed that considering the disabilities, officials ignore what abilities candidates possess. So, the problem is in the mindset of the people. Therefore, the mentality should be changed via counselling.

FAIMA's Kaweri Dandi feels, the officials should be more emphatic and friendly towards PwD candidates by supporting them with facilities like ramps, e-rickshaws and ferry rickshaws. Additionally, steps to prevent such incidents should to taken at the grass root level, she stressed. 

Further, regarding a definite guideline which has to be followed, Singh informed EdexLive that by October 2022, he along with an International Council of Doctors is going to come up with a document of principles supporting qualified disabled individuals in the medical profession. He highlighted that in India, NMC has not released any guidelines for PwD doctors while the United Kingdom (UK) has its body GMCUK (General Medical Council UK) has its own guideline named as Welcomed and Valued to support the disabled learners in medical education and training. 

Perspective of a public health expert

Aishwarya Rao, Paediatrics and Public Health Expert who pursued her MBBS in 1989 said there was no such PwD Act or law back then. It came into force only in 1995 because of which there is more awareness and legal action now.   

For various reasons, there is an inclination towards making things more difficult for PwD candidates. And with the prevalence of different boards, there will be varied results because of different parameters and different individuals. Therefore, every time counselling happens, there should be greater training and sensitisation of the training for the selection committee. 

Consequently, "Rather than questioning if the person can perform a function, what should be questioned is whether or not the colleges are ready to take on the aspirant and enable their dream," she adds. Moreover, she stressed, "How a candidate functions should not be limited by disability as it is determined by the built environment and accommodating environment." 

Also, Singh opines that "Since time immemorial, disability is not considered normal. As per the social model of disability, disability lies in the environment and not in the body. Explaining further, he cites an example saying if anyone has eye-sight, they are given spectacles, those with disabilities need to be enabled too.

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