Two judgments that boost reasonable accommodation

26 July 2023.

Two judgments this month give a resounding affirmation that specific measures must be undertaken by the authorities, recognizing the different needs of persons with disabilities, to pave the way for substantive equality for them.

The two cases, presented by the Disability Law Initiative, were regarding particular accommodations sought by persons with disabilities. In the first, the Disabilities Commissioner allowed a person having visual and hearing disability to use a digital magnifier in the all-India public sector banking examination. In the second, the Delhi High Court held that a person with an upper limb impairment could not be subject to a pre-employment computer typing test. Although these cases were specific in nature, the judgments give a ringing endorsement of the principle of reasonable accommodation provided for in the Disabilities Act, 2016.

The case of the digital magnifier

The Complainant, having 93% hearing and 75% visual disability, had sought the use of a digital magnifier to attempt the all-India banking examination conducted by the Institute of Banking and Personnel Services (IBPS). However, the digital magnifier was not permitted by IBPS on the ground that such digital devices had photo capture and storage capabilities and could be used to gain an unfair advantage in the examination.

Representing the complainant before the Chief Disabilities Commissioner, the Disability Law Initiative demonstrated that a digital magnifier was indispensable for him in order to read the questions on the computer screen and to work out the answer on paper, following which a scribe would enter his answer into the computer.

Explaining the provision of “reasonable accommodation” in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the Commissioner said “…it is certain that the concept is not merely a privilege which can be granted or denied at the discretion of the appropriate government. It is the mandate of the appropriate government to provide reasonable accommodation and if denied, it amounts to discrimination….”

Allowing the Complainant to use a digital magnifier, the Commissioner recommended that IBPS either check the Complainant’s device ahead of the examination, or else provide him with their own digital magnifier.

See a copy of the judgment and order dated 3rd July 2023 of the Disabilities Commissioner here.

The case of the exemption from the computer typing test

In a detailed judgment on 11th July 2023, the Delhi High Court held that once a clerical post was identified as suitable for persons with impairment of an upper limb, such persons could not be subject to a pre-employment computer typing test by the employer. Persons with disability in an arm or hand could not be expected to type with speed, and therefore such a test would be manifestly arbitrary and constitutionally impermissible. The Court directed the Employees Provident Fund Organization to exempt a candidate having disability in one arm from the computer skill test for the post of Social Security Assistant, and to grant him employment on the basis of his performance in the written examination.

See a copy of the judgment and order dated 11th July 2023 of the Delhi High Court here.