In a landmark judgment invoking the new Disability Act, SC directs accessibility for disabled students in institutions of higher education
Disabled students aspiring to higher education got a significant boost on Friday after the Supreme Court passed a set of directions to ensure that universities and colleges have disabled-friendly campus and learning facilities, and provide 5% reservation quota for persons with disability, as mandated by law. In the case of Disabled Rights Group vs. Union of India, argued by advocate Rajan Mani of the Disability Law Initiative, assisted by advocate Sija Nair of the Human Rights Law Network, the SC directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to form a committee to undertake a detailed study for making provisions for accessible campus facilities and pedagogy, and also directed that UGC monitor the fulfillment of the reservation quota for disabled students. Advocates for the Petitioner submitted that despite the 1995 and 2016 Disability Acts making it mandatory for universities and colleges all over the country to provide accessible courses and campus facilities, very little had been done thus far. Barrier-free campus environment had not been provided, inhibiting the mobility of disabled students. Modifications, aids and appliances for lectures, curricula, teaching materials, laboratories, libraries, examinations, classrooms and hostels etc had not been undertaken seriously, further inhibiting their participation. Further, there was no government mechanism to monitor the adherence to the 5% reservation quota. The petitioner suggested a range of accessibility measures to be implemented in the universities and colleges, which were not commonly available today. For example, note-takers and scribes ought to be provided for hearing and visually impaired students in the classroom, with a wheelchair-accessible location and priority seating. Teaching materials should be made available in alternative formats such as Braille, books on tape, and on the internet, with adaptive computer technology such as screen readers. Some appropriate modifications in examination and testing could be provided. A Disability Resource Unit should be set up to for providing assistance, information and awareness/training. With some exceptions, most of these measures were not in place, pointing to the attitudinal barrier prevalent in our institutions of higher learning. The Court noted that the Petitioner’s suggestions were reasonable, and directed the UGC to form an Expert Committee to consider the feasibility of the same and perform a detailed study for making measures for accessibility and pedagogy. Most significantly, the Court tasked the Committee with examining the feasibility of setting up an in-house body in each university and college, consisting of teachers, staff, parents and students, for taking care of the day-to-day needs of differently-abled persons as well as for the implementation of the schemes to be formulated by the Committee. The Court directed that this exercise be completed by June, 2018 and a report be placed before the Court in July, 2018, for further monitoring by the Court.