An estimated 70 million disabled Indians are treated as second-class citizens and are forced to confront segregation, discrimination, barriers and stereotypes. An entire range of disability issues — such as the causes of disability, care, rehabilitation, empowerment, mainstreaming through education, employment, health care, and transportation – wait to be practically resolved. The Disability Rights Initiative is recognized as the only one of its kind in providing a comprehensive range of socio-legal support services to India’s disabled community.
Issues Of Concern
Disability as a reason for discrimination
Lack of education opportunities both at the primary and higher levels
Right to minimum standards of food, shelter and clothing
Lack of employment and livelihood opportunities
Lack of physical Access in the built infrastructure
Lack of access to information in accessible formats
Denial of rights to promotion and emoluments to those who do find employment
Denial of reasonable accommodation in employment, education and so on
Denial of access to most Civil and Political rights
Marginalisation and discrimination faced by women with disabilities
What We Do?
The Disability Rights Initiative provides legal aid , takes up high-impact public interest litigation, provides access to the legal system and campaigns to improve facilities for persons with all types of disabilities. We engage in out-of-court advocacy and have initiated extensive work on law reform for people with disabilities. This stems from the obligation of the state to bring all its laws, policies and rules in conformity with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been signed and ratified by India.
Together with all HRLN Units, the Disability Rights Initiative team has built country-wide alliances with national organizations like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Leprosy Mission, National federation of the Blind, National Association of the Deaf and others. We have also cemented state wise alliances with Disabled People’s Organizations and NGOs working on disability. We work, in particular, with the movements of persons with disabilities in various states of the country. Our team is recognized as a resource base for awareness raising and utilization of the law for persons with disabilities, making “know your rights” information available in accessible communication formats including Braille, audio books, videos with sign language, and interpretation for the hearing impaired.
The outreach efforts of the Disability Rights Initiative have resulted in a database that captures an encyclopaedic overview of the different Indian organisations dedicated to working against disability. These include but are not limited to the disabilities identified under the Persons with Disabilities Act (visual, hearing and locomotive impairment, mental illness, mental retardation, leprosy-cured) as well as those listed under the National Trust Act (autism, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, cerebral palsy). Additionally, we work in solidarity with those affected by un-recognised disorders such as speech impairment, multiple dystrophy, dwarfism and spinal issues categorised under orthopaedic disabilities.
Our team has focused on mainstreaming equality for disabled people into all spheres by taking on legal cases that set precedents for equal access and to campaign, often via individual cases, for reforms to the system.
A key employment PIL achieved an order forcing Delhi University to honour the quota for disabled employees amongst lecturing staff. This challenges the practice of fulfilling the quota by recruiting disabled employees in only lower paid posts. The immediate impact was that 40 colleges of the 82 colleges under the Delhi University appointed approximately 100 lecturers with a disability but the longer tem impact is that colleges across the country can be challenged on the basis of this decision. A judgement in Sikkim has reinforced positive action for recruiting disabled employees by ordering the relaxation of requirements for posts and exemption from examination and application fees. Similarly, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a person with Cerebral Palsy to employment and ordered that necessary accommodation be provided to the concerned person. This enshrined the concept of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure that any disabled person can carry out their assignment without difficulty.
A PIL in the Mumbai High Court to make suburban trains in the city accessible achieved an order enabling HRLN’s Disability Rights Initiative to carry out an access audit in conjunction with the railway authority. The Court subsequently ordered the railways to work along with our team to make train travel more accessible for disabled people, asking for the audit recommendations to be implemented on a national basis. This order impacted the lives of disabled people across India.
In September 2008 federations of disabled persons, disabled persons organizations, and NGOs from 17 states came together in Mumbai to launch a national campaign on the right to vote for disabled people. A Supreme Court order to the Election Commission required that ramps, Braille stickers in EVM machines, separate queues for disabled and training of polling staff should be implemented. In an order to monitor compliance with the Supreme Court’s directions, our team filed requests under the Right to Information Act in the 12 states, resulting in petitions being filed in the non-compliant states (Andhra, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai) holding them accountable for the non implementation of the Supreme Court’s orders. Our interventions with the Chief Election Commissioner also bore results and Braille ballot papers and Braille stickers were provided in 20,000 polling stations in Punjab.
Between the months of November 2009 and February 2010, the Initiative undertook a series of National Consultations in a project to harmonize Indian laws with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. (UNCRPD). As a result of these consultations, a total of 3 disability specific laws and another 60 laws impacting disabled people have been examined and interim reports filed with the government. As a result of this work, the Disability Rights Initiative has been nominated as part of an Expert Committee constituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to draft a new ‘Persons with Disabilities Act’.