India is trying to bring people with disability into the mainstream: K Vikram Simha Rao, Director, DEPwD
With a significant law on disability, reservation policies, fresh initiatives like a dedicated sports complex and monetary boosts to private sector to enhance employment opportunities, India is finally paying much-needed attention to people with disability. K Vikram Simha Rao, Director, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability, tells Karan Bhardwaj there’s a long distance to cover but we are on the right track.
TBI: The current law, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (RPWD Act), has raised the expectations of persons with disabilities across India to get equal rights, reasonable accommodation and need-based interventions under 21 disabilities covered under the Act. How does the law promise to empower these people?
KVSR: Before this new law came into force, we already had one Act of 1995, even though it did not cover many areas of the present law. Many of the rights and entitlements were already covered under the Act, and people have had some knowledge about them. After the UN Convention was signed by the Indian government, attempts were made to translate them into the new law. Therefore, the RPWD Act is quite comprehensive, describing various rights and responsibilities concerning disability. It preaches Divyang individuals should not be left behind and must have lifestyle choices like the rest of the citizens so that they can actively participate in all walks of life. It is true that the new act has raised expectations. We are trying best to implement the Act systematically with the help of state governments, district officers and panchayat-level institutions.
TBI: How does the government plan to rehabilitate people with mental and multiple disabilities. As far as we know, under the aegis of govt, there is only one facility ie Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS), which runs residential schools where orphan children with disabilities can stay and pursue their education till the age of 18. What happens to the child after 18 years?
TBI: Accessibility and inclusivity are still major challenges with person with disabilities. What are the government initiatives on this aspect?
KVSR: Presently access to various resources is limited to persons with disability. For us, inclusion is not just about having a physical accessibility by having a ramp or a lift in the building. It is also about receiving mainstream education, health services, employment opportunities, participation in decision-making processes across fields, excelling in arts and sports. That’s the real inclusion. We are making efforts to include disabled individuals in all spheres of life.
We are running Accessible India campaign wherein we provide funds to the state governments to make public space more disability-friendly. The states are entitled to allocate money to try to make all buildings accessible not only to the government employees but also to the general public who enter the premises. The grants are also given to private buildings like malls which are accessed by general public. They are also called public buildings as per the Act. It is the collective responsibility of all establishments to ensure that all public buildings are made accessible to people with disability.
TBI: Where do you see role of catalysts such as media and NGOs in mobilising and sensitising public towards disability?
KVSR: Media, including The Bridge E-magazine, can play significant role in creating awareness about the disability. Many people, including government officials, still need to be sensitised about the new law and its provisions. Media can become vigilante in checking violations of the law in order to ensure justice.
TBI: How do you look at the role of the private and corporate sector?
KVSR: It is a joint responsibility to implement the 2016 Act. The UN convention clearly states that both public and private sectors must work together towards welfare of the disabled people. The 2006 Act also suggests provision of 5 per cent reservation in jobs in private sector though it is not mandatory. We are trying to help private sector through various schemes in insurance, provident fund etc to encourage them to employ more people with disability. So far, we have yielded good results but we are giving it a lot of publicity to create awareness. We want corporate sector to invest lot in the rehabilitation of the disabled people, especially in public spaces.
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