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Insights into Editorial: Disability rights over time

Insights into Editorial: Disability rights over time



World Disability Day is being celebrated today on December 3, 2017. The annual observance of International Day of Disabled Persons was first proclaimed in 1992. The United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3 brought this observance into being. The observance of the day aims at bridging the gap in the society and brings an understanding of disability issues and brings dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.

It aims to bring the disabled people at the forefront in the society and get them included in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life

Assumptions about the disabled:

  • Disabled people are the most vulnerable section of society and have been ignored by state and society alike since long.
  • Disabled people have always been dependent and, therefore, need helping hands and gracious charity.
  • Disabled people are victims of their own bad luck.
  • Disability is the punishment for sins he has never committed in this life.

Such assumptions about the disabled do nothing to help them. This approach perpetuates the stereotype of the disabled as victims and objects of pity and charity.

The Disability Rights Movement:

Unlike other movements like Feminism or Lesbian Movements which have distinct agendas of either gender justice or the right to sexual orientation, the Disability Rights Movement does not have systematic path.

Disability Rights Movement even in the West has a very recent origin and tries to draw strength from the traditional legal order rather than by critiquing or deconstructing it.

The Disability Rights Movement in India and in Third World countries is disorganized and there are no written documents to trace its origin.

Instead of coming together, sections of disabled viz. blind persons, persons with physical disability, deaf and dumb persons and those with mental disabilities hare launched their movements and struggles separately, mainly through NGOs. 

  • The disability rights movement gained momentum in the 1970s when disability was started to be seen as a human rights issue. This is when the UN General Assembly proclaimed in 1976 that 1981 would be the International Year of Disabled Persons.
  • Later, 1983-1992 was marked as the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), 2006 was a big step towards viewing persons as “subjects with rights” and not “objects of charity”.
  • Further, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges to “leave no one behind”. It states that persons with disabilities must be both “beneficiaries and agents of change”.

However, attitudinal, institutional, and infrastructural barriers remain, with the World Bank stating that 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability and that they “on average, as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities”.

In 2011, the World Health Organisation came up with a world report on disability for the first time. Its introduction showed how disabled persons aren’t “other people”, but that all of us at some point will be “temporarily or permanently impaired” and those “who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning.”

Government’s Relief for the disabled in India:

Until 1995 there was no law that even defined discrimination against people with disabilities. It is only with the ‘Persons with Disabilities Act,’ passed in 1995 that discrimination specifically against persons with disabilities came under the purview of the law.

Objective of the Act was to spell out the responsibility of the State towards the prevention of disabilities, protection of rights, provision of medical care, education, training, employment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.

In India, according to the 2011 Census, 2.21% of the population has one or multiple types of disabilities, making the country home to one of the largest disabled populations in the world.

Legislation moved forward last year in India when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was passed, replacing the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016

  • The 2016 Act recognises 21 kinds of disabilities compared to the previous seven, including dwarfism, speech and language disability, and three blood disorders.
  • It fulfils the obligations to the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory.
  • Responsibility has been cast upon the appropriate governments to take effective measures to ensure that the persons with disabilities enjoy their rights equally with others.
  • Every child with benchmark disability between the age group of 6 and 18 years shall have the right to free education
  • The new Act also increased the quota for disability reservation in higher educational institutions from 3% to 5% and in government jobs from 3% to 4%, for a more inclusive society.
  • The Act provides for grant of guardianship by District Court under which there will be joint decision – making between the guardian and the persons with disabilities.
  • Broad based Central & State Advisory Boards on Disability are to be set up to serve as apex policy making bodies at the Central and State level.
  • Creation of National and State Fund will be created to provide financial support to the persons with disabilities. 

Way forward

Legislation alone is not enough; implementation remains abysmal. For instance, data from the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People show that 84% of seats for persons with disabilities lie vacant in top universities.

The success of this Act would, however, depend much upon the extent to which the political leaders and bureaucratic executive internalizes the values, sensibilities and goals enshrined in the Act. If persons with disability are to be regarded as full citizens of India, their right to equal concern and respect must find its expression in the supreme law of the land.

While we have a long way to go in implementing these laws, we must also keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach is unhelpful for disabled persons. Levels and types of disabilities differ and so do needs.