In a landmark 62-page judgment last week, the Supreme Court of India has said that the principle of reasonable accommodation, spelt out in the 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, captures the positive obligation of the State and private parties to provide additional support to persons with disabilities to facilitate their full and effective participation in society. In the case of Vikash Kumar vs. UPSC, argued by the Disability Law Initiative, the Court further said that “…Cases such as the present offer us an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution in the project of creating the RPwD generation in India…A generation of disabled people in India which regards as its birthright access to the full panoply of constitutional entitlements, robust statutory rights geared to meet their unique needs and conducive societal conditions needed for them to flourish and to truly become co-equal participants in all facets of life.”
The case concerned a person with a chronic neurological condition resulting in Writer’s Cramp, or extreme difficulty in writing. He was denied a scribe for the Civil Services Exam by the UPSC, on the ground that he did not come within the definition of person with benchmark disability (40% or more of a specified disability). The Court, in rejecting this stand, held that the petitioner was a person with disability and that provision of scribe to him came within the scope of reasonable accommodation. The Court said ” … the accommodation which the law mandates is ‘reasonable’ because it has to be tailored to the requirements of each condition of disability. The expectations which every disabled person has are unique to the nature of the disability and the character of the impediments which are encountered as its consequence…”
In a detailed analysis of Indian and International disability law, the Court said that disability is a long-term condition which due to barriers in the environment hinders full and effective participation in society. Reasonable accommodation implies looking at the specific disabling condition and providing amenities in accordance. Examples: Blind persons need screen reading software to work on the computer, hearing impaired need sign language interpreters. Reasonable accommodation extends to all persons with disabilities, not just those with benchmark disabilities.
By thoroughly espousing the concept of reasonable accommodation, the Court has opened the doors for equal participation by persons with disabilities in all forms of socio-economic life in India.