The Journey towards PwD inclusion and road ahead

Written By- Ms. Sonica Aron, Founder & Managing Partner, Marching Sheep

The historical trajectory of the rights of persons with disabilities (PwD) in India has been marked by a gradual shift from a charitable to a rights-based approach. This shift has been driven by the tireless efforts of disability rights activists and organizations who have tirelessly advocated for the recognition and protection of the rights of PWD.

Early Discourses on Disability

In the early days, disability was often viewed through a medical lens, with PwDs seen as objects of pity and charity. This was also unfortunately perpetuated by the depiction of persons with disability as sad and unhappy, dependent and helpless people by popular media. This perspective led to the marginalization and exclusion of PwD from mainstream society, denying them their fundamental rights and freedoms. In the words of one of the respondents in the research conducted by HR consulting firm Marching Sheep, ”All the people who are not disabled had become so restless in the lockdown during Covid, but they expect us, persons with disabilities to live in a lockdown all through our life.”

The Rise of the Disability Rights Movement

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the emergence of a strong disability rights movement in India, led by organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind (NBF) and the Disability Rights Group (DRG). These organizations challenged the prevailing medical model of disability and advocated for a social model, which emphasizes the role of societal barriers in creating disability.

Landmark Legislations:

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 A significant milestone in the struggle for disability rights in India was the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PwD Act). This act, while not without its shortcomings, marked a significant step forward in recognizing the rights of PwD and providing them with legal protection against discrimination.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016

In 2016, the PwD Act was replaced by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD Act), which further strengthened the legal framework for disability rights in India. The RPWD Act recognizes 21 categories of disabilities and provides for a comprehensive range of rights, including the right to education, employment, healthcare, social security, and participation in public life.

Key Milestones in the History of the Rights of Movement for PwD in India

  • 1950s: The Indian Constitution is adopted, guaranteeing fundamental rights to all citizens, including PwD.
  • 1970s: The disability rights movement in India began to gain momentum, with organizations like the National Federation of the Blind (NBF) campaigning for the rights of PwDs.
  • 1981: The United Nations declares the International Year of Disabled Persons, further raising awareness of disability issues.
  • 1995: The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act (PwD Act) is passed, marking a significant step forward in the protection of the rights of PwD in India.
  • 2006: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is adopted, providing a comprehensive framework for the protection of the rights of PwD.
  • 2016: The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD Act) is passed, replacing the PwD Act and incorporating the principles of the CRPD.

Way Forward: Ensuring Full and Equal Access to Movement for PWD

Despite the progress made, there is still much work to be done to ensure that PwD in India have full and equal access to movement. Some key challenges include:

  • Attitudinal barriers: PwD often face negative attitudes and stereotypes, which can prevent them from fully participating in society.
  • Physical barriers: Many public buildings and spaces are not accessible to PwD, making it difficult for them to move around freely.
  • Lack of awareness: There is a lack of awareness among the general public about the rights of PwD, which can lead to discrimination.

To overcome these challenges, there is a need for:

  • Increased awareness: Public awareness campaigns can help to dispel negative stereotypes and promote inclusive attitudes.
  • Accessibility measures: The government should implement measures to make public buildings and spaces accessible to PwD.
  • Enforcement of laws: The government should ensure that laws protecting the rights of PwD are effectively enforced.

The journey has been going on in pockets, in bits and pieces. Inclusion Starts with I and if every organization pledges to embark on this journey this year, we can collectively as a society make huge strides.

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