Disability Rights

Census 2011 pegs the number of persons with disabilities in India at 26.9 million, which is 2.12% of the population. A World Bank study ‘People with Disabilities in India:  From Commitments to Outcomes (2007)’ states that the number of persons with disabilities in India ranges between 55 to 90 million. This wide variation in numbers reinforces the fact that a large section of the community remains invisible, not counted, not certified and consequently outside the social net.

Disability in India has a direct correlation with poverty. Disability leads to poverty and poverty causes disability. Caught in this nexus, persons with disabilities have little or no access to education, vocational training, and livelihood and employment opportunities. Unable to access welfare measures and entitlements, denied social security, treated as recipients of charity and doles, and because of widespread ignorance about their status as rights holders, they stand marginalised and most of their human rights stand violated. Lack of information about laws and their inability to access the justice system completes their marginalisation.

Within this paradigm, women with disabilities, persons with intellectual, developmental, multiple and psychosocial disabilities, and indigent persons with disabilities in particular face multiple levels of marginalization and exclusion.

The last decade has brought rights-based advances for the disabled community in India. After the ratification of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was legislated in December 2016 and the Mental Health Care Act in 2017, raising hopes and aspirations of the community. The Disability Rights Initiative is recognized as the only one of its kind in providing a comprehensive range of socio-legal support services to India’s disabled community.

What HRLN Does

Led by persons with disabilities themselves, the Disability Rights Initiative of HRLN is recognized as the only one of its kind in providing a comprehensive range of socio-legal support services to India’s community of persons with disabilities. Together with all HRLN Units, the Disability Rights Initiative team has built country-wide alliances with national DPOs and NGOs. It has also cemented state-wise alliances with grassroots DPO movements of disabled persons.

DRI provides legal aid, takes up high-impact public interest litigation, provides access to the legal system and campaigns to improve facilities for persons with all types of disabilities. It engages in out-of-court advocacy and has initiated extensive work on law reform for people with disabilities.

Together with all HRLN Units, the Disability Rights Initiative team has built country-wide alliances with national organizations like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Leprosy Mission, National federation of the Blind, National Association of the Deaf and others. Its team is recognized as a resource base for awareness-raising and utilization of the law for persons with disabilities, making “know your rights” information available in accessible communication formats including Braille, audio books, videos with sign language, and interpretation for the hearing impaired.

The outreach efforts of the Disability Rights Initiative have resulted in a database that captures an encyclopaedic overview of the different Indian organisations dedicated to working against disability. These include but are not limited to the disabilities identified under the Persons with Disabilities Act (visual, hearing and locomotive impairment, mental illness, mental retardation, leprosy-cured) as well as those listed under the National Trust Act (autism, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, cerebral palsy). Additionally, it work with those affected by un-recognised disorders such as speech impairment, multiple dystrophy, dwarfism and spinal issues categorised under orthopaedic disabilities.

Main Concerns

·      Disability as a reason for discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation;
·      Lack of education opportunities both at the primary and higher levels and lack of support in the education system;
·      Lack of skill development interfaced with market requirements, employment and livelihood opportunities, discrimination in promotions and emoluments;
·      Lack of access in the built infrastructure, transport sector, services and products, communication and documentation;
·      Denial of access to most Civil and Political rights
·      Marginalisation and discrimination faced by women with disabilities

HRLN Impact

The HRLN team has focused on mainstreaming equality for disabled people into all spheres by taking on legal cases that set precedents for equal access and to campaign, often via individual cases, for reforms to the system.

·      In a matter of disability discrimination by airlines, the Supreme Court decision in Jeeja Ghosh vs UOI will now result in changing the entire system at airports to benefit hundreds of passengers with disabilities. Travelling by airlines is now non-discriminatory for passengers with disabilities with facilities such as kiosks at airport entrances functioning as help desks, facilitation of online bookings and check-in by making airline websites accessible, provisioning of facilities such as ambulifts, wheelchairs and floor walkers, making the security check procedures disabled-friendly, permitting the boarding of persons with disabilities, in-flight information and projection screens being made accessible.

·      Around 1.5 to 2.0 lakh persons affected by leprosy who are newly identified annually benefit from the development of a new programme for the eradication of leprosy. In the writ petition, Pankaj Sinha vs Union Of India and Others, the Supreme Court on February 3, 2017 ordered the government to frame a new programme and formulate and adopt concrete measures for the eradication of leprosy. This order is significant since even though India claimed to have eliminated leprosy as a public health problem in 2005, it has the largest number of leprosy patients in the world and pockets of high endemicity report thousands of new cases every year. The campaign to identify new cases of leprosy conducted in 2016 also finds prominence in the website of the World Health Organisation.

·      Institutions for care of intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are to be monitored for institutional reform by statutory bodies. In Reena Banerjee vs UOI, on the prevailing pathetic conditions and instances of ill-treatment, abuse and negligence resulting in regular deaths of intellectually impaired children in government homes across the country, the Supreme Court disposed the matter directing the Central Coordination Committee and the State Coordination Committees set up under the 1995 Persons with Disabilities Act to monitor, review, coordinate and evaluate the implementation of the programmes and the conditions of the Homes and for introducing welfare measures.

·      Expanding the scope to include institutions being run for persons with psychosocial disabilities, the Supreme Court further directed the central and state authorities for Mental Health Services to inspect and evaluate the conditions of the psychiatric hospital and psychiatric nursing homes and other Mental Health Service Agencies and to submit reports to SC registry within six months.

·      Army officers with a 100% dependent child with disability are now able to seek longer tenures in cities with necessary rehabilitation services. In Lt. Col. Anil Kumar Yadav v. Military Secretary Branch & Ors., SLP(C)351/2016, the Army Transfer Policy for Officer with dependant disabled children was challenged.

·      Hundreds of hearing-impaired persons in Maharashtra who were denied driving licences are now entitled to get them.

·      124 suburban railway stations in the Mumbai railway system have been audited for accessibility features under directions of the Mumbai High Court.

·      20 persons with psychosocial disabilities who had been chained in a religious institution were provided relief.

·      A key employment PIL achieved an order forcing Delhi University to honour the quota for disabled employees among lecturing staff.

·  The Supreme Court, in Bashiruddin Qadri vs UOI, upheld the right of a person with cerebral palsy to employment and ordered that necessary accommodation be provided to the concerned person. This enshrined the concept of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure that any disabled person can carry out their assignment without difficulty with the provisions of accommodations that are reasonable.
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