Saturday, December 17, 2016

RPWD Bill in Lok Sabha: Bill passed but activists term disability bill a 'skeptical Act'

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

Rajya Sabha: 14 Dec 2016 (Passed)

Lok Sabha: 16 Dec 2016 (Passed)

Activists term disability bill a 'skeptical Act'

TIMES OF INDIA, Delhi, 16 Dec

NEW DELHI: Even as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 got the approval of Lok Sabha on Friday and Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, disability rights' groups and activists punched holes into the new Act on Friday. While welcoming the passing of the bill, the process which started in 2007, they say that many provisions of the bill will "inculcate exclusion," and that "this Act will be more of obstacles rather than implementation." Activists are also concerned with the bill not specifying any provisions for women and children with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable groups of the society. 

Concerned over the passing of the bill without any discussion in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, Sambhavana Organization, a disability rights' NGO said that due to this "the Bill has been passed with many inadequacies and unresolved issues," many of which they claim were part of the previous draft bills "which have been omitted or diluted in the present one." 

"We feel happy with the passing of the Bill, but are concerned over the fact that there has been no discussion on it in the Rajya Sabha. This means the issue of disability is not a priority for the policy makers," said Nikhil Jain, president, Sambhavana. 

While the categories of disabilities have increased threefold, from seven to 21, the amended bill provides only 4% reservation for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) which has been 3% so far. The rights' groups and activists were demanding retention of at least 5%. "Reservation in jobs, once proposed to be enhanced from 3% (1995 Act) to 5% (2014), has now been restricted to 4%," said disability right's activist, Dr Satendra Singh

Stating that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which India is a signatory envisage "no policies without the PwDs in its ambit," Pankaj Sinha, a disability rights activist said that the rights of the disabled have been curtailed by the new Bill. 

"The amendments have been in waiting since 2007 and drafts of many committees rejected. The previous government also tried to pass an ordinance after the Sudha Kaul committee report was not accepted. The present government without putting the draft in public domain passed it," said Sinha. 

Stating that the Bill leaves a lot of lacunas for violators to get scot free, activists said that need of the hour has been more teeth for punitive action. "Another amendment drops imprisonment (two months to six months) for violation. There is only a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh," added Singh. 

Another major concern has been regarding the rights of women and children with disabilities. "There is a special mention about rights of women and children with disabilities, but nothing specific has been stated. There is no legal provision for women with disabilities in marriage or divorce laws, where we need more clarity because they suffer the most. As far as children with disabilities are concerned there is also a special mention, but we need to clarity on how they are treated in institutions and inclusive education for them. In adoption laws too children with disabilities are left out. We need more specific provisions regarding adoption of children with disabilities," said Abha Khetarpal, president, Cross for Hurdles. 

Subhash Chandra Vashishth, advocate, disability rights, Centre for Accessibility in Built Environment, also highlighted the dilution in the amendments such as how Section 3 (3) allows "discrimination against disabled person if it is 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.' This clause leaves 'legitimate aim' open to the subjective interpretation of bureaucracy. 

According to Singh, "Only remarkable part of a skeptical Act is inclusion of autism, dyslexia, deaf-blindness and other impairments." 

The Blind Workers Union too claimed that the main problems faced by the disabled community have not been addressed. The union in a statement said, "The Bill continues to lack any serious engagement on the question of protecting the labour and economic rights of disabled persons employed in the private sector."
Source: Times of India, 16 Dec 2016

RPWD Bill in Rajya Sabha: Bill passed, New conditions, revised quota and a few concerns

Know your Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

Rajya Sabha: 14 Dec 2016

Disabilities Bill passed in Rajya Sabha: New conditions, revised quota and a few concerns

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014, which was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2014, was cleared Thursday with 119 amendments moved by union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot. The legislation, drafted to make Indian laws compliant with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will replace the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The number of disabilities listed rises from seven in the 1995 Act through 19 in the 2014 bill to 21 after the amendments, including acid attack and Parkinson’s disease.

The bill sets the government a two-year deadline to ensure persons with disability get barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure and transport systems. It recognises the need for reservation for them in promotion and makes special mention of the rights of disabled women and children. It defines many terms vague in previous versions, including what constitutes discrimination.
While disability rights activists have welcomed the amendments, they are upset about section 3(3) allowing discrimination against a disabled person if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. Prasanna Kumar Pincha, till date the only disabled person appointed Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, welcomed the bill but said this clause leaves “legitimate aim” open to the subjective interpretation of the bureaucracy.
Also, reservation in jobs, once proposed to be enhanced from 3 per cent (1995 Act) to 5 per cent (2014), has now been restricted to 4 per cent. CPM MPs Sitaram Yechury, K K Ragesh and C P Narayanan moved amendments to rectify the discrimination and reservation clauses. Gehlot assured clauses will be inserted when rules are framed to ensure the discrimination clause is not misused. “Why is there a hesitation to address this concern regarding discrimination in the parent act itself?” Pincha said.
“The bill is definitely a stride forward from the 2014 bill,” said advocate S K Rungta, convener of the All India Disability Alliance. He felt there was no need for the bill to dilute the fundamental right to equality as the Supreme Court has often recognised “reasonable classification”. “For example, a blind person cannot be employed in the military. It clearly does not constitute discrimination.”
Another sore point with activists is a provision for a Chief Commissioner of Disabilities instead of National Commission proposed in 2014. The chief commissioner has only recommending powers and there is no provision to ensure he or she too is a disabled person. “Every commission — minorities, women, SCs or STs — has a chairperson from the same category,” said disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh. Another amendment drops imprisonment (two months to six years) for violation. There is only a fine: Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh.
Source: Indian Express 15th Dec 2016

RPWD Bill amendments: what they are, what they will do?

Know your Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

The amendments to Disability Bill: what they are, what they will do?

What is the Disability Bill about?
The government will bring 119 amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014. The legislation has been pending in Rajya Sabha since February 2014; the term of the UPA government ended soon after it was introduced. The draft legislation is based on the 2010 report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s expert Sudha Kaul Committee, and will replace the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. The Bill is being brought to comply with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India became a signatory in 2007.
The 1995 Act recognised 7 disabilities — blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness. The 2014 Bill expanded the definition of disability to cover 19 conditions, including cerebral palsy, haemophilia, multiple sclerosis, autism and thalassaemia among others. The Bill also allowed the central government to notify any other condition as a disability.
The 2011 Census put the number of disabled in India at 2.68 crore, or 2.21% of the population. This a gross underestimation, especially in the light of the proposed amendments, which greatly widen the current Census definition of disability. The Bill makes a larger number of people eligible for rights and entitlements by reason of their disability, and for welfare schemes and reservations in government jobs and education.
What changes have been proposed to the 2014 Bill?
The amended version recognises two other disabilities — resulting from acid attacks and Parkinson’s Disease — taking the number of recognised conditions to 21, and defines each one of them. It makes a special mention of the needs of women and children with disabilities, and lays down specific provisions on the guardianship of mentally ill persons. “The amendments include private firms in the definition of ‘establishments’, which previously referred to only government bodies. All such establishments have to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with barrier-free access in buildings, transport systems and all kinds of public infrastructure, and are not discriminated against in matters of employment,” said an official from the Ministry of Social Justice.
All these are progressive amendments. Are there any obvious negatives?
The amendments, if passed in their present form, will dilute safeguards provided in the originally proposed Bill. The 1995 law had 3% reservation for the disabled in higher education institutions and government jobs — 1% each for physically, hearing and visually impaired persons. The 2014 Bill raised the ceiling to 5%, adding 1% each for mental illnesses and multiple disabilities. The proposed amendments cut the quota to 4%.
“When a greater number of disabilities are being brought under the purview of the Act, the percentage of reservation should go up proportionately, “ said Muralidharan, secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled.
The proposed amendments do away with the provision in the 2014 Bill for strong National and State Commissions for Persons with Disabilities, with powers on a par with a civil court. They instead continue with the status quo of having only a Chief Commissioner with far fewer powers.
“Several favourable orders given by the Chief Commissioner have been quashed by the courts on the ground that the Commissioner has no powers and is only a quasi-judicial body,” said disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh. He added that while the proposed amendments rightly recognise a wider range of disabilities, they fail to specify the degree of disability for thalassaemia, learning disabilities or autism. “Moreover, in India there are no suitable tools to quantify autism or learning disabilities,” Dr Singh said.
What if the disability law is violated?
While the existing (1995) Act has no penal provision, the 2014 version made violation of any provision of the Act punishable with a jail term of up to 6 months, and/or a fine of Rs 10,000. Subsequent violations could attract a jail term of up to 2 years and/or a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh. The amended Bill, however, proposes to remove the jail term entirely, and only keep fines for breaking the law or discriminating against persons with disabilities.
Will the amended law help eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities?
The proposed amended law defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction on the basis of disability” which impairs or nullifies the exercise on an equal basis of rights in the “political, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. However, it condones such discrimination if “it is shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving legitimate aim”. Disability rights activists see this rider as paving the way for extreme interpretations.
“The excuse given by the government is that we will cry discrimination if we are denied certain jobs like, say, that of a pilot. However, every job has certain basic requirements, and no person with disability will apply for it unless he or she meets the criteria,” said Muralidharan. CPM MPs K K Ragesh and C P Narayanan are set to move amendments to the Bill asking for this provision to be deleted, and for retaining only the clause, “No person with disability shall be discriminated on the grounds of disability”.

As reported in Indian Express on 13th Dec 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Accessibility is Human Rights issue

3 December 2015: It was my first visit to Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi to witness the National Award function on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Govt of India launched the Accessible India Campaign from here but alas the venue was disabled friendly. I along with Abha Khetarpal wrote to the PMO office and Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities about the inaccessible ramp the very next day.

4 December 2015: I was invited at Social Welfare Department of Govt of Delhi on my grievance of web-inaccessibility. When I reached there, I found the premises again disabled-unfriendly. The same day I registered my complaint.

6 December 2015: I was returning to home when I saw the 'masterpiece' steep ramp at IDBI Bank in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad near my house. I tweeted to the officials at the same moment.

A year later!

Today is Human Rights Day (10 December 2016) and the theme is #StandUp4HumanRights

"“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

I followed up with all three officials where I get success with IDBI Bank, partial success with Delhi Govt as they released tender for installation of lift and no result with Central Govt as their overhyped Accessible India Campaign failed to produce any results.

Youth Ki Awaaz followed the IDBI story which you can read here. News18's Citizen Journalist program also covered the story:


The end result was creation of an accessible ramp by IDBI Bank.Times of India covered the story on the Diwali Day:
GHAZIABAD: The relentless pursuit for over one year by a differently abled activist has prompted one of the banks in Vasundhara to construct a ramp at its building to enable wheelchair-bound customers to enter premises. The activist had found it difficult to access many banks in the area as he had to climb a fleet of steep stairs.
Bank Manager Sumit Jakhar with Dr Satendra Singh
This year also marks ten years of coming into existence of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which is the first human rights treaty in the 21st Century. Article 9 of UNCRPD states:
States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.
Since India has ratified the convention, it is obligation of the State to provide us accessibility. As I quote Ms Roosvelt above, no effort is small or insignificant. Accessibility is human rights issue and we should strive to make a difference. Every little effort counts.

#HumanRightsDay #StandUp4HumanRights #envision2030 #CRPD #SDGs #dISABILITY #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs #LeaveNoOneBehind

Everything you want to know about rights of drivers with disability

Ability On Wheels... Enabling Drivability (First Edition, 2016) Paperback – 2016

"Ability on Wheels," penned by Harish Kumar, is an attempt to answer all the questions which come to the mind of any person with disability when he dreams of buying a vehicle & driving on his own. This book also provides insights on safe driving, which are applicable to all & hence even people without disabilities can read this book & learn a lot of things about driving which they may have been ignorant of.

Who is Harish Kumar? A Holder of two National Records in Limca Book of Records, Harish was born with an absence of right arm below the elbow. He did his schooling from a reputed school in Dehradun & went on to do his Masters in Science from IIT Roorkee & Masters in Technology from IIT Delhi. In 2012 he became the first physically challenged person in the country to successfully complete a Solo All India Driving Expedition thereby creating a new National Record in Limca Book of Records.
Harish Kumar, editor and Dr Satendra Singh
What is "Ability on Wheels"? ABILITY ON WHEELS is an effort to encourage the people with disabilities to take a big leap towards leading a normal life by providing mobility & accessibility services & solutions. As a first step towards this direction Ability on Wheels has launched a first of its kind in the country driving school exclusively for the differently abled using customized cars in Ahmedabad. This is the first book penned by Harish as an effort to spread awareness & provide useful information on disability & driving. 

"Enabling Driveability" is everything you always wanted to know about disability & driving. In line with 'nothing about us, without 'us', 6 individuals with disabilities have pen down their experiences to make it a complete encyclopedia on driving and disability in Indian context.

Harish Kumar begins with 'Can I drive?' where he writes about disability assessment with regards to driving. Kavita Modi writes about invalid carriage (IVC) in chapter 2 -'What can I drive?' Pallav Pathak mentions driving strategies in chapter 3 - 'How can I drive?' Jaspal Singh talks about driving license in chapter 4 - 'Let me drive'. Navin Gulia mentions about Governmental benefits in chapter 5 - 'My best drive'. Issues facing these benefits are covered in chapter 6 written by me 'A worthy drive'. Finally there is a chapter on the ideal scenario as 'Dream Drive'. The foreword has been written by Advocate Subhash Chandra Vashishth. I request people to forward this valuable info in the Ability on Wheels Book to all the needy. One can buy the book from here.

The above picture is that of my modified Baleno along with the 'Ability on Wheel' book as a constant companion. To buy this car, I had to fight a lengthy battle which is covered in Chapter six and its outcome was amendment of Central Guidelines for availing excise duty concession. The details are available here.

Access denied at meet to honour them

Delhi State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016
3 Dec 2016, Times of India. NEW DELHI: It was a programme organised to felicitate the disabled, but the venue itself underlined the lack of seriousness with which their problems are taken. At the government function to honour outstanding achievers among persons with disabilities (PwDs) on Friday, the ramp leading to the dais was constructed in such a manner as to render it practically inaccessible to physically challenged people.

While describing the experience as humiliating and an affront to their dignity, other award winners, however, said this was not an exception. Most public spaces, they said, were still inaccessible and policymakers seemed not to want to consult them while formulating policies or implementing them.

Hardeep Singh initially declined to go up to the stage, given the steep ascent. However volunteers from the social welfare department assured him and pushed his wheelchair up the ramp. However, they had no idea how to get him down. Singh refused to be carried down, so he abandoned his wheelchair and crawled down the ramp.

Dr Satendra Singh felicitated with Delhi State Awards Persons with disabilities 2016Right at the outset, disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh warned the state labour minister:
"Gopal Raiji, climbing this ramp won't be easy even for you. If we don't address such issues as these, the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan cannot be successful." Dr Singh added that even the Vigyan Bhawan walkway to the stage had not been disabled-friendly when the event to give national awards to PwDs was organised there. "Accessibility is about the dignity of an individual," said Dr Singh. 

In a picture that was emblematic of the plight of PwDs, an honoree, 75-year-old Hardeep Singh, who lost both his legs saving a girl from dacoits on a moving train, had to get off his wheelchair after receiving the award and crawl down the ramp to reach his seat. Another PwD, a para-athlete, had to be carried down the ramp along with the wheelchair by four people.

Para-athlete Trivendra Singh felt that India, as a country, was not only insensitive to the rights of the physically challenged, but had a long way to go to make its public spaces friendly for them.

"You have just seen the ramp. This is a common problem," said the sportsperson. "However, we are never consulted about these things. When I was in China to participate in the Asian Games, we were on our own. I am wheelchair-bound, but could easily move around on my own."

The other participants also pointed out how accessing important utilities like ATMs as well as public transport in the city was always a challenge.

Source: Times of India, 3 Dec 2016

Delhi Govt felicitates Dr Satendra Singh with State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016

Dr Satendra Singh felicitated with Delhi State Awards Persons with disabilities 2016

International Day of Persons with Disabilities turned out to be a special affair for eight people with disabilities who were  felicitated by Delhi government for their achievements in various fields. Delhi Social Welfare Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was the Chief  Guest but in his absence Minister of Labour and Employment Mr Gopal Rai felicitated them for their exceptional achievements in the field of creativity, sports, entrepreneurship and social work as part of the State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016.

Dr Satendra Singh got the award in the 'Social Work' category. His achievements are enlisted in the Times of India graphic on the left.

They Tell tales of a disabled system that hurt them. (Times of India, 3 Dec 2016)

NEW DELHI: Physically challenged people got a rare opportunity to share their grievances with the state government when they gathered at the Delhi Secretariat for a felicitation function on Friday. Delhi labour minister Gopal Rai rewarded them by hearing out their stories, among them tales of discrimination, inadequate Braille and educational materials for students and, above all, the lack of job opportunities. The minister nudged the officials of social welfare department present to respond to the complaints.
The programme had been organised by Delhi government's department of social welfare to honour exceptional achievers among the physically challenged on the eve of International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

Rai invited the persons with disabilities (PwDs) to talk of problems faced by them before the cultural and felicitation programme began. "I would like to learn about the issues that trouble PwDs," Rai said. "Perhaps then, by the time the next felicitation function is held next year, we will have been able to take these issues up as challenges for our government to address." He said Friday's function would prove more meaningful if the government got suggestions on how to help PwDs.

While Dr Satendra Singh, recipient of the award in the category of social work, highlighted the problem of accessibility of public spaces and the disability policies of the government, a student of a blind school drew the government's attention to some of the basic issues they confronted regularly, like lack of teachers and paucity of teaching-learning aids.

Dr Singh suggested that the first step for the government should be to have a separate 'department for disability'. He also pointed out that the post of commissioner of disability was lying vacant for over a year now and that state executive and state coordination committees had not been constituted in Delhi for over one and half years despite provisions for such panels in the Disability Act. "If these issues are addressed, no one can stop us from making Delhi disabled-friendly," concluded Singh.

The sportspersons among the PwDs present brought up the topic of job opportunities or the lack of them in the capital. R Kumar, a national-level table tennis player, said, "I have represented Delhi at various levels, but there is no provision for jobs for us under the sports quota here."

Mohammad Sahir, a blind student, talked of the difficulties that primary and middle school students at a government senior secondary for blind boys have been facing for three years.

"There are around 10 positions for teachers lying vacant in the school for the last three years," he said. "We even demonstrated against the vacancies not being filled. Besides, we also need Braille books and audio books. Because of the lack of audio devices, we have been struggling."

Responding to these complaints, the department officials promised that the vacancies would be dealt with temporarily by appointing guest teachers and efforts would be made for permanent appointments. They assured the students they would be provided audio books within a week.

Source: Times of India, 3 Dec 2016