The HRD ministry’s All India Survey on Higher Education (2014-15) revealed that the gross enrolment ratio for students in Indian universities in the 18-23 age group has increased from 21.5% in 2012-13 to 23.6%. The survey also found that even after 20 years the passage of the disability law, only 78,449 disabled students are enrolled in universities. Here are several reasons why the number is dismal for disabled students: There is a serious lack of accessible infrastructure, unavailability of reading materials, administrative apathy and stigma.
The Persons with Disabilities, (Equal Opportunities Protection of Rights) and Full Participation Act 1995 (PWDA) said that State-funded and aided educational institutions must reserve not less than 3% seats for persons with disabilities (PWS). But this promise remains unfulfilled.
Several PILs have sought equal opportunity and non-discrimination for the disabled in universities. Despite the judiciary’s progressive attitude, most universities continue to discriminate against the disabled. Educational institutions such as Delhi University, the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Central University of Hyderabad adhere to the law but this was achieved only after a lot of struggle.
In the last one decade, the University Grants Commission has empowered disabled students. In its 10th five-year plan (2002-07), it provisioned the Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs (HEPSN) scheme that promotes greater accessibility and a barrier-free environment.
In its 11th five-year plan (2007-12), UGC proposed the establishment of the ‘Equal Opportunity Office’ in universities to bring all schemes related to persons with disabilities under one umbrella for better implementation. Regrettably, most universities have not set up the office.
As a result, most college libraries don’t have provisions for disabled students to access multi-level shelves and many lack reading material. Such problems are acute in smaller cities.
There is much discrimination against the disabled in faculty appointments. The All India Higher Education Survey (201-15) reveals there are only 5,253 disabled faculty members in universities.
Disabled candidates face difficulties getting jobs also. The recently launched Accessible India and the Digital India campaigns could help PWDs. The HRD ministry recently announced its first domestic ranking of Indian universities. It now needs to promote the Accessible India campaign and include accessibility as one of the variables for determining the ranking of Indian higher educational institutions in the future.
Avinash Shahi is a doctoral candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed are personal