In the case of Rajive Raturi vs. Union of India, being argued by the Disability Law Initiative and the Human Rights Law Network, the Supreme Court is monitoring the implementation of accessibility measures by the Central and State Governments in Government buildings, airports, railway stations, bus transport, and information services such as web sites and public documents. Now, in a sign of the seriousness with which it considers the issue, the apex court has initiated a number of steps to ensure accessibility within its own precincts, including designation of Grievance Redress Officers and Coordinating Officers to “render all possible assistance to lawyers and litigants with disabilities”.
By a circular dated 11th February, 2019 (click here), the court issued an order appointing Grievance Redress Officers and Coordinating Officers to “render all possible assistance to lawyers and litigants with disabilities”. This follows an affidavit filed on October 4, 2018 by the Registrar General of the Court in the case of Rajive Raturi vs. Union of India. The affidavit listed several measures taken to ensure that the SC premises were physically accessible, from the entry gates, to the reception area, and on to the court rooms. It also set out plans to make the SC website and all case papers filed in the Court fully accessible to visually impaired persons.
The affidavit of the Registrar General of the Supreme Court described comprehensive facilities already put in place to make the SC premises physically accessible for disabled lawyers and litigants, including:
- Designated parking, availability of wheelchairs at all SC entry gates, and provision of ramps at SC bus stops and entry gates
- Tactile pathways from entry gates to reception area and lifts
- Designated disability counters in reception area
- Lifts with Braille signage, audible announcement systems and handrails
- Non-slippery staircases with handrails and corridors with tactile markers to reach court rooms; staircases and corridors made obstruction free
- Portable ramps for entry into court rooms
- Accessible toilets and drinking water facilities at particular locations
- Appropriate signage indicating the above facilities, including in Braille
The affidavit further described plans to make the SC website fully accessible and compliant with the Government of India Guidelines for Websites (GIGW) by 15th June, 2019, the deadline mandated by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The measures to be taken include:
- The SC web site would be readable by JAWS screen reader
- Alternative text would be inserted for images or other media
- All judgments, cause lists, circulars and notices would be uploaded on SC website in OCR PDF format with digital signatures so as to be computer readable
The affidavit assured that the SC website would be audited by Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate, Government of India, after the website accessibility enhancements were made.
The affidavit further stated that in any case involving a visually impaired lawyer or litigant, all the case papers and legal material, such as petitions, documents and the written submissions used during arguments were to be provided in OCR PDF format to be computer readable. It suggested that the opposite side could be directed to do this.
Whereas final orders are awaited from the SC on the issue of accessibility in the courts, the steps taken by the apex court itself provide a welcome road map for the High Courts and subordinate courts to do the needful in this area, thus helping ensure access to justice for persons with disabilities.