The Department of Empowerment of Person with Disabilities (DoEPwD) recently released the draft of the national policy for persons with disabilities (“Policy”).
GS Paper 2: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and the States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
What are the various challenges that people with disabilities face in India? Highlight the government’s efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities. (250 words)
The Policy and the necessity:
- The need for a new policy to replace the 2006 policy was felt due to a number of factors, including India’s signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; enactment of new disability legislation (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016), which increased the number of disabilities from seven to 21; and membership in the Incheon Strategy for Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022 (“Inch”).
- The most recent was prepared under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and it identifies ten goals for Asia-Pacific countries to ensure the inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities, as well as compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.
Highlights of the Draft Policy
- Shift away from traditional causes of disability: Disability prevention programmes primarily focus on ‘traditional causes of disability,’ such as polio, iodine deficiency, leprosy, fluorosis, deafness, and blindness, while other causes, such as medical negligence, malnourishment, socio-cultural factors, impairments caused by disasters, malnourishment, and so on, are largely ignored.
- Thus, the draught policy calls for a comprehensive national programme on disability prevention, including medical conditions that have the potential to manifest as any type of disability.
- New framework: A roadmap for the development of Cross Disability Early Intervention Centres (CDEICs) in each district has been provided, with access to the Unique Disability ID portal for assisting PwDs with disability assessment and certification within 30 days of application receipt.
- Reservations in education: According to the draught policy, every government/government-aided higher educational institution should ensure the implementation of 5% reservations for PwDs. It has also been suggested that a disability-specific course curriculum and evaluation system be developed.
- Job creation: A PwD employment portal will be created with information such as skill training in various locations, vacancies, job nature, eligibility, recruitment, and so on.
- Sports curriculum: Given India’s performance in the Paralympics and Special Olympics, the policy calls for the establishment of dedicated sports centres in each zone with cutting-edge facilities.
- Cultural enrichment: The Department of Culture should devise a programme to promote fine and performing arts among people with disabilities.
- Improved accessibility: Access to cinemas, shopping malls, theatres, parks, museums, and tourist attractions, among other things, must be ensured.
- Recognition on national holidays: A tableau for Republic Day highlighting the Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities’ initiative to empower Divyangjan has been proposed.
- Universal design as a guiding principle: New government buildings should adhere to disabled accessibility standards during the planning stage, and guidelines for making modifications in personal vehicles used by PwDs are suggested.
- Self-sufficiency: While the policy emphasises research, it also calls for the promotion of Atmanirbhar Bharat in the Disability Sector for the manufacture of assistive devices.
Policy flaws in the Draft
- Election commission mandate: Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act states that the Election Commission of India and the State Election Commissions are responsible for ensuring that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and that all materials related to the electoral process are easily understandable and accessible to them.
- No political empowerment: A notable omission is the lack of any commitment to the political uplift of people with disabilities.
- The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) expressed concern that the allocation for PwDs was only 0.0039 percent of GDP, and no measures to improve this were mentioned.
The significance of disabled political representation
- Advance specific interests: Representation is critical in furthering the interests of the marginalised community, as evidenced by reservations in the legislature for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. Disabled people, on the other hand, are underrepresented at all three levels of government.
- Statistics: According to the 2011 Census, there are 68 crore persons with disabilities (PwD) in India, accounting for 2.2 percent of the total population.
- Increase in number: With the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016, the government has added more types of disabilities, bringing the total number of types from seven to twenty-one.
The need for a new policy
- Lack of favourable policy: India has no policy commitment aimed at increasing the political participation of disabled people.
- New obligations: The need for a new policy to replace the 2006 policy was felt due to a number of factors, including the following:
- UN Convention: India signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires states to ensure that disabled people participate in political and public life on an equal footing with others, either directly or through freely chosen representatives.
- New legislation: Adoption of a new disability legislation (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016) that embodies an anti-discrimination commitment and recognises the political domain in which disabled people should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Incheon pledge: Joining the Incheon Strategy for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022.
- About the Incheon Strategy: It was created under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and it identifies ten goals for Asia-Pacific countries to ensure the inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities, as well as compliance with the SDGs 2030.
- The Incheon objectives also encourage participation in political processes and decision making.
- Discourse shift: These commitments have shifted the focus of disability discourse from the individual to society, i.e., from a medical model of disability to a social or human rights model of disability.
Exclusion of disabled people from political space demonstrated
- Inaccessibility of the voting process: a lack of accessible polling booths, a lack of widespread adaptation of braille electronic voting machines, and a lack of wheelchair services at all polling locations.
- No voter base: Political parties in India still do not see the disabled as a large enough electorate to address their specific needs. Furthermore, the lack of accessible space for PwD in party meetings, inaccessible transportation for campaigning, attitudinal barriers among voters and party leaders, and exclusion from party manifestos all contribute to their alienation.
- Inadequate data: The lack of live aggregate data on the exact number of disabled people in each constituency only adds to their marginalisation.
- No separate database: According to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, the government does not keep data on the disability status of its members.
- No acknowledgement: India has failed to recognise disabled political figures who have overcome numerous barriers in India’s political space. Sadhan Gupta, the first visually impaired Member of Parliament in independent India, for example, receives little attention in our political or disability discourse.
Successful Initiatives to enhance political participation of PwDs
Chhattisgarh initiated the nomination of at least one disabled person in each panchayat. If a disabled person is not elected, they are nominated as a panchayat member in accordance with changes in the law. This is a step that has increased the participation of the disabled in local politics.
The document emphasises the importance of central and state governments working together with other stakeholders to “make the right real.” This right can only be realised if it includes political rights and political participation. This is only consistent with the universal principle of disability, namely, “Nothing about us. Without us.”
The policy document’s goal of inclusiveness and empowerment cannot be realised without political inclusion. As a result, the draught policy can take the following four steps:
- Facilitation: Increasing the capacity and empowering members of disabled people’s organisations through training in the electoral system, government structure, and basic organisational and advocacy skills.
- Relaxing norms: Creating, amending, or removing legal and regulatory frameworks by legislators and election bodies to encourage disabled political participation.
- Include Civil Society: Involve civil society in domestic election observation or voter education campaigns.
- Model blueprint: A framework for political parties to use when developing election campaign strategies and policy positions to reach out to people with disabilities.