Answer: Credits: The Print, The Hindu, The Wire
The Draft National Policy on Disability reflects India’s extensive commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the mandate under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWDA) enacted subsequently. The principle of the draft policy is to showcase the Government’s commitment to the inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities by providing a mechanism that ensures their full participation in society.
The policy has many important features like:
- 1.Ensuring disabled people are not called more than twice for disability certification to offices;
- 2.Sign language interpreters at district hospitals;
- 3.Guidelines to modify personal vehicles and indigenisation of motorised wheelchairs;
- 4.Maintaining year-wise data of employees with disabilities.
- 5.It identifies various areas for intervention, such as, early identification and prevention, education, skill development, social security, disaster management, among others, to enable persons with disabilities to participate fully and effectively in society.
- 6.The policy lays down the specific commitments of the Indian government to secure accessibility to built environment, transportation, information and communication systems (ICTs), and other facilities and services. It also ensures dedicated sports centres;
- 7.Universal design as a guiding principle – The policy also makes a distinctly progressive move by introducing ‘universal design’ as a key guiding principle towards making public spaces accessible to all, and not just to persons with disabilities. Towards a gradual realisation of this goal, it encourages academic curricula at schools and universities to include accessibility and universal design principles for better understanding and adoption in public infrastructure. Making cinema halls, museums and tourist places accessible to disabled people has also been envisioned.
- 8.Recognising disability as a cross-cutting issue – Where government departments often tend to work in silos, the policy recognises disability as a cross-cutting issue requiring coordinated action. It identifies and places clear commitments on other ministries and departments, such as, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for issuing accessibility guidelines specific to subject matters within their purview. This could include broadcasting programmes to telecommunications as well as to personal vehicles of persons with disabilities for instance.
- 9.Maintaining data regarding crimes against disabled people
- 1.Participation of persons with disabilities in planning – While the policy recognizes the significance of participation of persons with disabilities in decision making for better planning and monitoring, it does not lay down any definitive framework for doing so. Towards this, town planning bodies at state and municipal levels must ensure participation of persons with disabilities, especially women with disabilities, in the planning process to account for their requirements.
- 2.Political empowerment and the inclusion of the disabled are an issue that has not found traction in the policy. The exclusion of disabled people from the political space happens at all levels of the political process in the country, and in different ways. For instance, the inaccessibility of the voting process, barriers to participation in party politics or a lack of representation at the local, State or national levels have all aggravated the marginalization of the disabled.
- 3.Non-availability of the policy in several regional languages and in accessible formats. The policy should be translated into regional languages and it should also be available in a picture-based format, and in plain language after which the deadline for submission of public opinion should be extended by at least three months for effective public opinion on the document.
- 4.The policy attempts to address the implementation gap by requiring accessibility standards to be reflected in municipal building bye-laws and complied with at the stage of planning. However, this is not sufficient. To ensure effective implementation, the policy must mandate ongoing audit or periodic inspection of public infrastructure by persons with disabilities or disabled people’s organizations to ascertain whether accessibility standards are indeed being met or maintained.
- 5.It does little to ensure that accessibility requirements are included in public procurement laws and policies for goods and services.
- 6.The policy is silent on repealing all types of guardianship that affect deafblind people and persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities.
- 7.The policy does not specify a way forward to provide high-support needs; prohibit insurance-based discrimination; and a national suicide prevention strategy.
The document lays emphasis on the point that central and State governments must work together with other stakeholders to “make the right real”. Overall, while the policy is comprehensive, the commitments set out in it can only be realised through awareness, sensitisation and capacity building at all levels, including stakeholders in the government, service providers, private persons involved in implementation at the local level, to better understand the needs of persons with disabilities and build a culture of accessibility and inclusion in the country.