The great omission in the draft disability policy

Source: This post is based on the article “The great omission in the draft disability policy” published in The Hindu on 15th Jul 22.

Syllabus: GS2 – Govt policies and interventions

Relevance: Disability rights and related issues

News: The Department of Empowerment of Person with Disabilities (DoEPwD) recently released the draft of the national policy for persons with disabilities (“Policy”) inviting public comments till July 15, 2022.

The new policy will replace the 2006 policy.

Why a new policy on disability?

The necessity for a new policy was felt because of multiple factors, such as

India’s signing of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

enactment of a new disability legislation (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016) which increased the number of disabilities from seven conditions to 21.

Being a party to the Incheon Strategy for Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022 (“Incheon commitment”).

These commitments have changed the discourse around disability by shifting the focus from the individual to society, i.e., from a medical model of disability to a social or human rights model of disability.

What are some associated issues?

Political participation: Political empowerment and the inclusion of the disabled are an issue that has not found traction in India’s democratic discussion. India does not have any policy commitment that is aimed at enhancing the political participation of disabled people.

Accessibility issues: Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act prescribes that

  • “The Election Commission of India and the State Election Commissions shall ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and all materials related to the electoral process are easily understandable by and accessible to them”.

Although this mandate has been in existence for a few years, the disabled people still report accessibility issues before and on election day.

– There is often a lack of accessible polling booths in many locations.

There’s still no widespread adaptation of braille electronic voting machines and even wheelchair services at all polling centres.

Political parties in India still do not find the disabled as the large electorate to specifically address their needs.

The lack of live aggregate data on the exact number of the disabled people in every constituency only furthers their marginalisation.

Inadequate representation: Representation plays an imperative role in furthering the interests of the marginalised community. Disabled people are not represented enough at all three levels of governance. Government does not maintain data on the disability aspect of members.

The first visually disabled Member of Parliament in independent India, Sadhan Gupta, hardly finds mention in India’s political or disability discourse.

Further, there has been a failure to acknowledge disabled political personalities who have overcome the myriad barriers in India’s political space.

Efforts for the disabled

The Election Commission of India has developed its own procedures for handling PwDs during the electoral process.

Few States have begun initiatives at local levels to increase political participation.

For instance, Chhattisgarh started the initiative of nominating at least one disabled person in each panchayat. If a disabled person is not elected, then they are nominated as a panchayat member as per changes in the law concerned.

Way forward

The goal of the policy document — of inclusiveness and empowerment — cannot be achieved without political inclusion.

The policy can follow a four-pronged approach: a) building the capacity of disabled people’s organisations and ‘empowering their members through training in the electoral system, government structure b) regulatory frameworks by lawmakers and election bodies to encourage the political participation of the disabled; c) inclusion of civil societies to ‘conduct domestic election observation or voter education campaigns’; and d) a framework for political parties to ‘conduct a meaningful outreach to persons with disabilities when creating election campaign strategies and developing policy positions’.

The document lays emphasis on the point that central and State governments must work together with other stakeholders to make the right real.

This right can be made real only when it includes political rights/political participation within it.

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