Partnership in caring
The Government, through its comprehensive and just legislation, has taken a lead to support the large community of people with disabilities in India and has provided a framework for the implementation of legal, progressive and economic activities. In addition to the statutory provisions and the services rendered by NGOs, a tremendous amount of informal support is given by the families and friends of the disabled. There are still many voluntary agencies and private enterprises with immense potential to contribute to the creation of a just and caring society in India. Without people’s with disability rights being clearly entrenched in the law, there could be no progress in changing age old attitudes and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. The disabled should not be dependent any more. They should become an integral part of the society in every way. It is their right and the new law with emphasis on full participation declares, in no uncertain language, that they shall have it.
Disability law gets enacted
The Indian Parliament, for the first time, has legally endorsed the right of access for the people with disability to education and vocational training; employment practices; travel on public transport and mobility schemes; barrier – free environment and integrated living; information and communication strategies; independence and dignity. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Bill, 1995 was passed in December 1995 and was published in the Gazette of India on Monday, 1st January 1996 after receiving consent from the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma. It became functional on Wednesday, 7th February 1996.
The Act establishes responsibility on the society to make adjustments for people with disability so that they overcome various practical, psychological and social hurdles created by their disability. The Act places people with disability at par with other citizens of India in respect to education, vocational training and employment. There have been and are a number of programs, schemes and services for people with disability in India but so far there has been no separate law to protect the rights of people with disability. The new Act fills that void. Protection of the rights of people with disabilities was long overdue and the Government must be congratulated for taking this important and progressive step. The glory of this historical achievement, The Act, is shared by people with disabilities and their families; NGOs working in this field for and with the disabled, disability campaigners who have been fighting hard for this cause in India and abroad; the people in the media and Members of Parliament in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha who had voted unanimously for the Disability Bill.
There is little doubt that the new Act will help to develop positive action programs as well as offer guidelines to make policies in favor of people with disability. The highlight of the Act is that it gives statutory recognition to the policy of three per cent reservation in all group ‘C’ and ‘D’ posts and has extended the reservation to Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ posts also. The Act declares that the State shall progressively ensure that every child with disability has access to free education until the age of 18 years. Until now the provision of free education had been restricted to children below 14 years. The Act has several provisions to ensure equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation of people with disability in mainstream activities of the society. The State has been entrusted with the responsibility of prevent disabilities, provision of medical care, education, training, employment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the State must create a barrier–free environment for them, remove any discrimination against them which prevents them from sharing the development benefits, counteract any abuse or exploitation, lay down strategies for comprehensive development of programs and services and for equalization of opportunities.
Mechanisms for implementation of the law
Sufficient attention has been paid to matters relating to the implementation of the intentions and provisions of the Act. This shall be done through constituting of coordination committees at the Central and State levels with the Welfare Minister as the chairperson and officials of ministries and concerned departments, NGOs working with and for people with disability and eminent people with disabilities as members, to coordinate disability–related activities of the government, NGOs and others. Since most of the disabled complain about the discrimination they face throughout their lives on account of their disability, the new Act is designed to eliminate discrimination and create an equal society. It encourages greater involvement of people with disability in the world around them so that they may themselves contribute to improving the quality of their lives. In order to realize the intentions of the Law, people with disability willing to take part in consultative exercises with the planners and providers of services and goods, must be identified, supplied with information on the range of services available and helped to work through existing or new action groups to deal with disability issues.