Context: Recently, a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) reached the Parliament in a wheelchair and flagged the issue of poorly equipped support infrastructure available to people with disabilities in India.
About Persons with Disabilities(PwDs):
- PwD means a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others.
- The rights of persons with disabilities Act, 2016 recognizes 21 types of disabilities including low vision, Leprosy cured persons, etc.
- One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher in developing countries.
Current statistics in India
- According to the Census 2011 about 2.68 Cr persons (2.21% of the total population) are ‘disabled’ of which 56% are males and 44% are females.
- Majority (69%) of the disabled population resided in rural areas.
- Only around 55% (1.46 Cr.) are literates.
- Only 36% of the total PWDs are workers.
- More than 50% of the children with multiple disabilities or with mental illness never attended educational institutions
Constitutional provisions with regard to PwDs:
- Article 41 of the constitution states that the State shall make effective provisions for securing right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, within the limits of its economic capacity and development.
- The subject of ‘relief of the disabled and unemployable is specified in the state list of the Seventh Schedule of the constitution.
- Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992 provided monitoring the training of rehabilitation professionals and personnel, promoting research in rehabilitation and special education.
- National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act,1999.
- Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
- Reservation for the PwDs in government jobs increased from 3% to 4%.
- Right to free education for every child (6 to 18 years of age) with benchmark disability.
- Provision of 5% reservation in seats in Government and Government aided higher educational institution.
Issues and Challenges Involved:
- Social and attitudinal issues: Stereotyping like many people consider PWDs unhealthy because of their impairments.
- Thus, PwDs have to face stigma, prejudice, and discrimination at multiple levels.
- Lack of enforcement and Implementation: Despite many legal provisions, schemes and initiatives to improve the condition of PwDs the implementation has been a major issue.
- Most buildings in India are not disability-friendly, despite the government of India, under the Accessible India Campaign, instructing all ministries to make their buildings accessible to persons with disabilities.
- Similarly, the quota of reservation for PwDs in government jobs and higher education institutions under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act has not been implemented and the majority of these posts are vacant.
- Accessibility challenges: Design and construction of indoor and outdoor facilities can prevent them from going to school and hospitals, shopping, etc.
- As per estimates, only 5-15% of people who require assistive devices and technologies have access to them.
- Communication challenges: Experienced by people who have disabilities that affect hearing, speaking, reading, writing, and/or understanding.
- Cycle of Poverty and disability: Poor health and nutrition can lead to various types of disability.
- Equally, the onset of disability can have an adverse effect on education, employment, etc. resulting in higher rates of poverty.
Government Initiatives to augment disabled friendly infrastructure
- The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020: The NEP has provision of “Barrier-free access to education for all children with disability” and emphasis on
- Imparting knowledge and to train faculties on teaching children with specific disabilities.
- To provide barrier-free education to children with disability as per the RPWD Act 2016.
- Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan: A nationwide major campaign to achieve universal access that will enable persons with disabilities to have access to equal opportunity and live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life in an inclusive society.
- Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme: Under this scheme, NGOs are provided with financial assistance to provide various services to persons with disabilities, such as special schools, vocational training centers, and community-based rehabilitation.
- Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase / fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP): The Scheme aims at helping the disabled persons by bringing suitable, durable, scientifically-manufactured, modern, standard aids and appliances within their reach.
Accessible India Campaign (AIC): A case of failed enforcement
- In December 2015, the Government of India launched the Accessible India Campaign (AIC) to make the built environment, ICT ecosystem and transport facilities more disabled-friendly.
- There is an implementation gap in the AIC which has led to the failed purpose of the campaign.
- Section 45 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 [RpwDA] mandates to make all public buildings (government buildings plus buildings run by the private sector used for public) accessible to persons with disabilities within 5 years of implementation of such rules.
- These rules called the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly Persons, issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, were notified in June 2017.
- The five-year time period expired in June 2022.
- However, it is widely reported that this deadline has been breached and most of the buildings remain inaccessible to disabled.
- Make every new building accessible before it is granted an Occupancy Certificate (under RpwDA).
- The relevant provisions of the Harmonised Guidelines and Standards for Universal Accessibility in India, 2021 can be integrated into local bye-laws and state planning laws.
- The local Municipal authorities have local knowledge and can enforce these provisions with ease.
- Setting up of accessibility committee by the parliament to tasked with delivering recommendations in a time-bound fashion on making every aspect of the Parliamentary process more disabled-friendly.
- Central and state level procurement laws and policies must incorporate accessibility criteria in public procurement of physical, digital and transport infrastructure.
- The Department of Empowerment for Persons with Disabilities (Department) has released the Sugamya Bharat app to enable persons with disabilities to report any building that is inaccessible.
- There are many deficiencies in the app that should be rectified so as to enable a well-meaning intervention to realize its full potential.