[Editorial] Draft National Policy on Disability

What is the draft policy about?

  • The draft National Policy on Persons with Disabilities was released by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, under the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry.
  • This policy is to replace the 2006 policy.

What is the purpose of this policy?

  • The Health Ministry’s current national program on disabilities prevention focuses on ‘traditional causes’, according to the draft document. However, there are other causes, like medical negligence, malnourishment, impairment caused by disasters and socio-cultural factors. The draft policy seeks to account for these factors too.
  • The number of disabilities, under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, has been expanded from 7 to
  • India is under certain obligations after the signing of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2007.
  • India is also party to the Incheon Commitment, i.e. Incheon Strategy for Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022. This commitment, under UNESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), outlines 10 goals, for the countries in the Asia-Pacific, to ensure the empowerment and inclusion of PwDs and to ensure conformity with SDG 2030.
  • These commitments have shifted the focus of discourse around disability, from individual to the society. There has been a shift from the medical model of disability to a human rights/ social model.

What are some highlights?

  • The policy gives commitments with respect to:
    1. Education
    2. Health
    3. Skill development and employment
    4. Sports and culture
    5. Social security
    6. Accessibility
    7. Other institutional mechanisms
  • It calls for a comprehensive national program for disability prevention– covering the disabilities listed in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and medical conditions that could potentially manifest as a disability.
  • The Road Transport and Highways Ministry is to issue guidelines for modifying personal vehicles for use by PwDs.
  • It calls on states and UTs to include a provision on compliance with the Act, when permitting or recognizing educational institutions.
  • A module on disabilities is to be included in medical courses.

Why is it being criticized?

  • The draft document is criticized for its omission of commitment to PwD’s political upliftment. By this omission, it fails to take cognizance of several mandates:
    • Article 29, of UN Convention of Rights of PwDs, require the state parties to ensure effective and full participation, by PwDs, in public and political life on an equal basis with other members of society. This participation can be done directly or through a chosen representative.
    • The Incheon Commitment also calls for promoting PwD participation in political processes and decision making.
    • The 2016 RPD Act also echoes these sentiments, with its anti-discriminatory commitment.
  • India still doesn’t have a policy commitment towards the political empowerment and inclusion of PwDs. This issue is yet to find traction in democratic discussions.
  • Political representation is essential in furthering the PwD community’s interests. This is why our Constitution-makers introduced the concept of reservations.

What is the political presence of PwDs?

  • PwDs are excluded from political space at all levels, like barriers to participation in party politics, lack of representation at various levels- local, state and national, inaccessibility of the voting process, etc.
  • There are reports of accessibility issues during the election period despite RPD Act requiring ECI and State Election Commissions to ensure accessibility of all polling stations to PwDs, under its Section 11. The section also requires the commissions to ensure availability of materials (related to the electoral process) that are easily understandable by PwDs. Yet, the country is yet to see a widespread adoption of braille EVMs.
  • Political parties don’t find the PwDs as a significant enough electorate to specifically cater to their needs. One seldom sees disability as a major campaign point in party manifestoes.
  • For PwDs seeking to contest elections, issues like absence of accessible space for party meetings, lack of appropriate transport for campaigning and an attitudinal barrier among the party leaders and the voters are impediments.
  • This political marginalization is further aggravated by the lack of live aggregate data on the number of PwDs in each constituency.
  • The government doesn’t maintain information on the disability aspects of legislative members. The 1st visually disabled MP, Sadhan Gupta, barely finds mention in political discourse or disability discourse. We rarely acknowledge the disabled political personalities who do overcome the various barriers in the political space.
  • However, some states have started local level initiatives to increase PwD participation. Eg: Chhattisgarh has a program of nominating minimum 1 PwD in each panchayat. If a PwD isn’t elected, then a compensation is made through a nominated PwD pachayat member. This has increased local level PwD participation.

What is the way ahead?

  • The policy document’s goal, of achieving inclusiveness and empowerment of PwDs, isn’t achievable without political inclusion.
  • A 4 pronged approach can be adopted towards political inclusion:
    1. Capacity building of PwD organizations and empowering its members using training in electoral system, basic organizational and advocacy skills and government structure
    2. Creation or modification of legal/ regulatory frameworks to encourage political participation of PwDs
    3. Inclusion of civil societies in conducting domestic election observation and voter education campaigns
    4. Creation of a framework to get political parties to reach out to PwDs when developing policy positions and election campaign strategies

Conclusion:

While the document emphasizes how the government- at the center and states- must work with other stakeholders to ‘make the right real’, this goal can be achieved only by conforming to the principle: ‘Nothing about us. Without us.’

Practice Question for Mains

The draft national policy on disability is being criticized for its omission of PwD’s political participation. Examine the challenges in the PwD community’s political participation. How can these be overcome? (250 words)

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