Three months after it launched the ‘Accessible India Campaign’, which seeks to make at least 50% of all government buildings in Delhi and the state capitals disabled-friendly by 2018, the Centre last week released the ‘Inclusiveness and Accessibility Index’ that measures the actions and attitudes of different organisations towards people with disabilities.
While both these developments are good steps to make India a more inclusive space, there are several other barriers that the government needs to bring down to make the campaign and index successful in letter and spirit.
First, make the office of the Disability Commission more effective. As of now, activists allege, it takes way too long for the office to act on complaints and, even when it does, its directives are not taken seriously. Second, there must be a correct assessment of the number of disabled people.
The United Nations pegs the disabled in India at 15% of the population but the census fixes it at just 2.2%. This means there are many who do not get access to the State benefits that are due to them. One of the main reasons why the numbers are low is that the enumerators often don’t ask the right questions; families tend to hide those who suffer from mental illness; and sometimes they are unaware of challenges like autism. To redress this situation, the government needs to pump in more money on public awareness programmes and train enumerators better.
Last, but not the least, political parties must stop dillydallying on the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which is pending in Parliament. The Bill replaces the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Instead of seven disabilities specified in the Act, the Bill covers 19 conditions. The Bill is being brought in to fulfil obligations under an international treaty. Many have criticised the Bill, saying that it’s not perfect — but then no Bill is. At least this has expanded the number of disabilities and that is a step forward and will give many more disabled people access to opportunities and funds that are earmarked for them.