Nearly 3 pc of the population of Jammu & Kashmir has some form of disability, facing highest form of discrimination, both in public and private spheres. Recently the Department of Social welfare Govt. of J&K sought suggestions regarding the rules for the implementation of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016; we pray our thoughts find its takers. Not to mention that, we the visually challenged students are the main subject of the Act; still the worst sufferers.
Though it is a first baby step towards the empowerment of persons with special needs, there are a number of factors, and issues, that need special attention and deliberation. Yes, there are many major problems the persons with various disabilities in general are facing in their day-to-day life, but we being the intimate sufferers, and we have a few suggestions to put forth.
The draft rules have proposed number of suggestions to make education more accessible and inclusive. The draft proposes to provide material in accessible format like braille, audio and visual. The concept of braille does help in the basic education of a blind student but the availability of material cannot be guaranteed. Moreover, braille will not satisfy the needs of higher education students because of its cumbersome physical interface and toughness in handling. The J&K Board of School Education, instead, should train or recruit special teachers with knowledge of screen reading, assistive technology and special software. And all the education and study material should be made available in Pdf, OCRPDF, EPUB and accessible formats.
One of the common issues that a differently abled person faces is getting admission in schools; the draft is silent on it. Though, a per the Act, a nodal officer will be appointed to look into many such issues, but a special awareness drive should be initiated to address these issues; strict guidelines should be issued and punishment be given to those who violate the directions.
Moreover, the rules should be clear about higher education also, especially about examination, special classes, scribe/writer, libraries etc.
The RPWD Act provides 5pc reservation in the higher educational institutes and this should be adhered to.
The RPWD Act 2016 provides 4pc reservation for specially abled persons, but theree are some nagging concerns. One, are the guidelines have been adhered to, two, what is the employment ratio in J&K. On both these counts, there is no data available.
Due to emerging unemployment scenario, JKSSB should offer a special recruitment drive for such persons. The draft though mentions 4% reservation but it has no mention for the recruiting boards to consider the PWD percentage. To follow the regulatory norm there should have been the involvement of any Inspector or Commissioner for the PWD.
The most important part of the life of a differently abled person is their health care, but the rules in the draft nowhere mention this sector. It is completely silent on health care of the people with disability. Although section 25 of the RPWD Act emphasises to take necessary steps to provide free healthcare in the vicinity, barrier-free access to government and private hospitals and priority in their attendance and treatment.
The rules should be clear about getting the disability certificate and it should not be a tardy process. The issuance of fake certificates should be checked and those who are involved in such activities should be properly punished.
Committee for Research
The draft recommends setting up of a committee for research on disability but its scope is not mentioned and the membership is limited.
The draft states that the committee of the official members should include five non-official members representing five categories of disabilities. The number may be increased to ten so that both the divisions of Jammu and Kashmir are equally represented.
Vocational training and skill development
Modern era is the age of training and skills, the draft nowhere mentions this component. Section 19 of RPWD Act 2016 states that the government shall formulate schemes and programmes including provision of loans at concessional rates to facilitate and support employment of persons with disabilities, especially for their vocational training and self-employment. For the implementation of Section 19, the rules should include:
Special training institutes to be setup for imparting modern skills
These institutions to be linked to the market so that after the completion of training the skilled persons get placed in any private or public entity.
Section 30 of the Act provides for the sporting activities of persons with special needs but it is completely missing in the Draft.
Steps should be taken in accordance to the Act i.e., redesigning and support to build infrastructure for all sporting activities, ensuring inclusion of such persons in sporting activities and develop technology to enhance talent, capacity and ability in sporting activities of all persons with disabilities.
Union Territory Fund
The draft also suggests setting up of union territory fund but there is vagueness on how will the funds be utilised, and there is no mention of auditing of the fund.
The Draft rules must be compiled in accordance with the RPWD Act, and better late than never. A meaningful and comprehensive policy should be framed so that differently abled persons are given their rights to live life with dignity.
After all they are an inseparable part of our society, and they must effectively be – law must ensure that.
Sanya Zehra is an LLM Scholar at Central University Kashmir, and Aaqib Rehman is a graduate from University of Kashmir. Views expressed are personal.)