Moving towards Greater Accessibility: Rights of Persons 

with Disabilities Act 2016

Iris C F Gomes

Being disabled in India has long been a curse, with minimal efforts spent towards an inclusive approach in every area. Hopefully things will change with the new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which replaces the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. Since India has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the country is obliged to follow rules and regulations with opening avenues to and increasing the accessibility for disabled people.

The Act is, however, still at the stage of having laws pertaining to it being developed. People usually think that once an Act is passed it will be set in motion immediately. This is, however, not the case. After the laws are formulated in April, the Act will be notified by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in Delhi. Next, all the states and government departments will receive intimation of the notified Act. The government of Goa will then have to notify the Act. It will take approximately 3 months before this Act is functional.

The earlier Act had 7 disabilities listed in it. This has been extended to 21 disabilities and the government reserves the right to add to these as it sees fit. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 includes in its list of defined disabled persons, mental illness, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, speech and language disability, specific learning disability, acid attack victims, dwarfism and muscular dystrophy among others. Blood disorders (thalassemia, haemophilia and sickle cell disease) have now found a place on the list as well.

The ambit of persons with disabilities is extended to individuals who suffer from more than 40% disability owing to an accident. This percentage of disability has to be authenticated by the following government recognised hospitals and institutions in Goa: Goa Medical College, Bambolim; IPHB, Bambolim; Asilo Hospital, Mapusa; and Hospicio Hospital, Margao.

Communication will be from the perception of a disabled person so that they too can gain access to public information with ease. This will be done through use of sign language, bolder print, tactile script/Braille, and human readers for blind or visually impaired persons.

There will be no denial of rights that will obstruct an inclusive society and inclusive education. Employment may not be denied to persons who are capable of performing the work in question and merit the same. Educational institutions may not decline admission on the grounds of disability (this is included in the Right to Education). Sports activities will be required to be modified for children with disabilities, depending on the nature of the disabilities, to allow them equal participation. Five percent reservations in institutions of higher education have been assured by the Act for persons with disabilities.

All public establishments such as educational institutions, hospitals, religious spaces, places of employment, government offices, etc, and private places as well, have to be made accessible to persons with disabilities. This accessibility has to be on the basis of universal design and all such architecture will be certified by the Accessible India Campaign team. This takes into account ramps, steps, corridors, entry gates, parking, signs, toilets, lighting, alarm signals, etc. In a disaster situation, emergency exits must be made reachable for escape for persons with disabilities. Both public and private organisations are urged to utilise CSR funds towards improving accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Airports and the railways are to incorporate similar changes as with building infrastructure to provide trouble-free movement of persons with disabilities. Arrangements for paratransit are also to be made from one location to another. There will be buses equipped with ramps to facilitate movement of persons with disabilities. The persons with disabilities have to pay only half the bus fare on Kadamba Transport buses.

For those looking for tourism that allows for accessibility, there is UMOJA, a company that caters to persons with disabilities in Goa, Bhopal, parts of Mumbai, Bengaluru, Jaipur and Agra.

The 2016 Act specifically mentions special protection of women and children with disabilities. The reproductive rights of women with disabilities is part of this Act too. Sexual and reproductive healthcare for women with disabilities has been stressed. All people with disabilities will have access to priority treatment and attendance in hospitals.

In the case of persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, if it is found that the guardians or caretakers are taking undue advantage, the government reserves the right to replace the guardian or caretaker.

Persons with disabilities will be entitled to loans at concessional rates and in any financial schemes they will receive twenty five percent more than the general category. Places in the market will be reserved for people with disabilities to sell their produce or wares. There are to be five percent allotments in agricultural land and housing weighing in favour of women with benchmark disabilities in giving them concessional rates. Support will be given to women with disabilities too earn a livelihood to be able to raise their children.

A mechanism to maintain data on persons with disabilities is to be developed to keep track of such persons. The office of the commissioner is charged with running awareness programmes to make known to persons with disabilities their rights and the various schemes available to them.

The concrete employment of the provisions of this Act is something all persons with disabilities will be looking forward to. 

For more information, please contact Commissioner of PwDs (Persons with Disabilities) 

Anuradha Joshi at: C/O Social Welfare Department, Panaji; mobile number: 7755937724.

*This article is based on a discussion held at the Friday Balcao.