A wheelchair-bound girl cannot pursue her education in law with a nationally recognized university because the authorities do not provide her with a barrier-free, disabled friendly campus environment….. Blind students in the country’s capital, facing tremendous difficulty in the competitive academic environment because of lack of school text books in Braille, fare poorly in the school system ….the nation’s largest public sector employer and one of it’s most prestigious publicly funded universities ignore their legal obligation to take affirmative action to employ disabled persons in their workforce ….a large private sector finance company, a household name in India, refuses to provide an employed and qualified blind college professor with a consumer loan….These are real instances of problems, discrimination and non-inclusion faced by disabled persons in India.
Historically, in India persons with disabilities have been a marginalized group with little or no political influence. Although the Constitution of India calls for positive measures for the weaker sections of society, disabled persons have been ignored in critical areas like employment, education, access and non-discrimination / positive discrimination. While other historically disadvantaged groups have reaped the benefits of affirmative action, little has been done to integrate the disabled into the social mainstream. Since disabled persons as a community have no strong political representation, it is mainly through the implementation of the provisions of disability law that affirmative action and positive measures for persons with disabilities can be brought about.
With the passage of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 India has a socially benevolent law guaranteeing affirmative action for persons with disabilities and protection of their rights. The Act provides for positive measures in public employment and state supported education. It also mandates the authorities to make all public facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. As required by the Act, the courts of the Commissioners for Persons with Disability have been set up and are mandated to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was adopted by the United Nations in December 2006 and ratified by India in October 2007. In the words of the UN Enable website, “The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.” Since India has ratified the UNCRPD, it has the force of law in India.
The Government of India as well as several State Governments have issued regulations and directions providing for positive measures and benefits for persons with disabilities in the spheres of employment, education, access and reasonable accommodation. The various Government departments, public sector enterprises, colleges and universities as well as Government and private establishments and authorities are legally bound to implement such regulations and directions as applicable to them.
Acting on the provisions of disability law, the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India have passed some path-breaking judgments by which persons with disabilities have been granted the benefit of public employment (including in the Indian Civil Services) and access to higher education. In some landmark cases the courts have directed that public places and facilities be made barrier free and accessible to disabled persons. These judgments act as binding precedents for the benefit of persons with disabilities all over India.