Editorial

Enabling a law: rights of the disabled

The Supreme Court has struck a blow for the rights of the disabled, with a direction to the Central and State governments to provide full access to public facilities, such as buildings and transport, within stipulated deadlines. People with a disability form 2.21% of India’s population according to the 2011 Census. They have had a law for two decades to enable their full participation in society, but successive governments have done little to realise those guarantees. Now, in response to a public interest petition filed by a visually handicapped activist, the court has issued a series of orders: that all government buildings should be made accessible by June 2019; half of all government buildings in the capital cities should meet accessibility norms by December this year; the Railways should present a report in three months from December 15 on implementing station facilities; 10% of government public transport must be fully accessible by March 2018; and advisory boards should be formed by the States and Union Territories in three months. The court’s directions should be welcomed by the government and service providers as an opportunity to steer policy and practice towards a universal and humane system. For too long, planners and designers have built infrastructure for use only by able-bodied individuals, ignoring the aspirations of those with disabilities, and the letter of the law.

A transformation requires governments to also harness the power of newer technologies. Geolocation is one, and it enables targeted provision of services. It is eminently feasible, for instance, to aggregate the travel requirements of disabled people with the help of information technology and smartphones, and provide affordable shared transport using accessible vehicles. Given the emphasis on smart cities and upgraded urban facilities, such schemes should be given the highest priority and start-up ideas roped in. Railway stations and access to train carriages continue to pose hurdles for not just the disabled, but even elderly travellers. The Railways should embark on an urgent programme to retrofit all stations, and try simple solutions such as portable step ladders to help board and exit trains, since level boarding is not possible in most places. Cost is not the barrier to improving facilities; what is in short supply is the political will to change the design of public facilities and stick to professional codes. The Supreme Court said in a 1998 order on a petition seeking air travel concession, that while cost was a consideration, the true spirit and purpose of the law could not be ignored. Today India, which is richer than it was then, and has passed a new law in 2016 to strengthen the rights of the disabled, should demonstrate the will to implement it.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 10:27:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/enabling-a-law/article22378707.ece

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