The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, specifies provisions for the ‘empowerment’ of persons with disabilities in India. The Act was passed in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 13, 2006, and India ratified it on October 1, 2007.
‘person with disability’ refers to someone with long term physical, mental,
intellectual or sensory impairment which – in interaction with other ‘barriers’
– hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis
with others. A ‘barrier’ is defined as any ‘communicational’, cultural,
economic, environmental, institutional, political, social, attitudinal or
structural factor that hampers the full and effective participation of persons
with disabilities in society.
Parliament of India passed this Act on December 27, 2016, replacing the Persons
with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity Protection of Rights and Full
Participation) Act, 1995.
Which disabilities does this Act recognise?
The Act speaks of physical disabilities; intellectual disabilities (characterised by a significant limitation in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour); mental illnesses (a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality, or ability to meet the ‘ordinary demands’ of life); disabilities caused due to chronic neurological conditions and blood disorders; a combination of these disabilities; and other categories as may be notified by the central government.
‘Physical disabilities’ include locomotor disability (defined as a person’s inability to execute activities associated with their movements due to an affliction of their musculoskeletal or nervous system, or both), visual impairment, hearing impairment, and speech and language disability.
What rights and entitlements does the Act grant persons with disabilities?
The Act says that the ‘appropriate Government’ (central or state) shall ensure that persons with disabilities have the right to equality, and to a life of dignity and respect, without discrimination of any kind. The government shall particularly ensure that women and children with disabilities can realise their rights equally with others.
Persons with disabilities have the right to live in the community, states the Act. The government shall take measures to protect them from any torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation. The Act also mandates that persons with disabilities have “equal protection and safety in situations of risk, armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters.”
No child with disabilities shall be separated from their family on grounds of disability, unless specified by a competent court in the interest of the child. Persons with disabilities shall be ensured access to information on reproductive and family planning. The Election Commission of India and the Election Commissions of states and union territories shall ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities. The ‘appropriate Government’ shall make sure that such persons can access any court, tribunal, authority, commission or any other body that has judicial powers, without discrimination on the basis of disability.
Persons with disabilities shall have the right to own property, control their own financial affairs, and have access to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit. If any authority designated by the Act finds that a person with disability is “unable to take legally binding decisions” despite having “adequate and appropriate support” to do so, such a person may be provided the support of a ‘limited guardian’ to take legally binding decisions on the person’s behalf in a manner prescribed by the state government. (‘Limited guardianship’ refers to “a system of joint decision” based on mutual understanding and trust between the person with disability and their guardian, which shall be limited to a specific period and specific decision.)
What does the Act say about the education of persons with disabilities?
The Act mandates that the ‘appropriate Government’ and local authorities shall ensure that all educational institutions funded or recognised by them provide inclusive education to persons with disabilities, with no discrimination against them. Such institutions shall provide students with disabilities with accessible facilities and necessary support to “maximise their academic and social development,” and detect specific learning disabilities in children at the earliest, taking suitable pedagogical and other measures to overcome them.
Governments and local authorities shall conduct surveys on school-going children to identify those with disabilities, ascertain their special needs and the extent to which they are being met, and train teachers and staff to support inclusive education at all levels. They shall take measures to promote, protect and ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in adult education without discrimination of any kind.
The Act also mandates that ‘persons with benchmark disabilities’ between the ages of 6 and 18 years shall have the right to free education in a neighbourhood school or ‘special school’ of their choice. (‘Persons with benchmark disability’ refer to those “with not less than 40 per cent of a specified disability,” as certified by a ‘certifying authority’.) Governments and local authorities shall provide free learning materials for such persons until they are 18 years of age. All higher education institutions funded or aided by the government shall reserve at least 5 per cent of their seats for such persons, and the upper age for admission shall be relaxed by five years.
What are the provisions in the Act for the employment, social security and health of persons with disabilities?
The Act stipulates that the ‘appropriate Government’ must formulate schemes and programmes to facilitate and support the employment of persons with disabilities, especially for their vocational training and self-employment. Every establishment shall have an ‘equal opportunity policy’ and no government establishment shall discriminate against any person with disability on matters relating to employment.
Within the limit of its economic capacity, the ‘appropriate Government’ shall formulate necessary schemes – such as pensions and unemployment allowances – to safeguard and promote the rights of persons with disabilities so that their standard of living is adequate, and enables them to live independently and in the community. The quantum of assistance to persons with disabilities under such schemes shall be at least 25 per cent higher than similar schemes applicable to others.
Local authorities and ‘appropriate Governments’ shall take necessary measures to provide persons with disabilities free healthcare in their vicinity – especially in rural areas – ‘subject to… family income’, as well as ‘barrier-free access’ to all private and government healthcare institutions, and prioritise their treatment in such institutions.
Focus and Factoids by Jinson George Chacko.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
26 Dec, 2016