Since the ancient era, the term ‘disability’ assumes different ramifications for disabled persons and has different implications for non-disabled people. Historic evidences of Greek, Rome, and Asia reveal that persons with disabilities including visually impaired persons have been marginalized, discriminated, and treated inhumanly. Blindness is predominantly understood as a metaphor rather than a lived experience. With the advent of the enlightenment era, the attitude of the common masses started changing and the human rights-based approach has revolutionized the world of historically marginalized people including persons with disabilities.
With the advent of the 21st century, many archaic things have been changed. In 2006, the United Nations conducted the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and India ratified the same in 2007. For the realization of the aspirations of the convention, India enacted robust legislation named, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 repealing the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
The act has opened the doors of new possibilities and a range of opportunities for visually impaired persons. The act seeks to promote non-discrimination, accessibility, equality of opportunity, respect for inherent dignity, acceptance in society, and reasonable accommodation for all persons with disabilities. Art. 16 stipulates that education should be imparted to persons who are blind or deaf in the most appropriate means of communication. Every person with benchmark disabilities of the age group of 6 to 18 years has the right to free and inclusive education that would certainly increase their literacy rate. In the circumstances of armed conflict and natural disasters, they would be given equal safeguard measures. Art. 24 makes provisions to provide support to women with disabilities for livelihood and for the upbringing of their children, disability pension, unemployment allowance, and caregiver allowance.
In addition, the act has provided equal right to legal capacity, right against exploitation, accessibility in voting, and access to free legal aid to the visually impaired persons. Art. 13 provides that they can own immovable and movable property as well as control their financial affairs. Furthermore, the government is obliged to launch programmes and schemes to promote accessibility, vocational training, rehabilitation, and medical facilities. Art. 29 stipulates that Cultural life and recreational activities would also be promoted for the all-encompassing enjoyment of the rights.
Besides, chapter 8 of the statute contains provisions to make all the public places, government office buildings, public documents, government office records, and public transport services accessible for visually impaired persons. These steps would enable them to access all the government facilities and play a vital role in shaping the nation. Additionally, in a welcome move, the quantum of reservation has increased in higher educational institutions and government jobs from 3 to 5% and 3 to 4% respectively. In the private sector, employers will get Incentives to employ persons with disabilities. It would create new possibilities for visually impaired persons and remove social invisibility in the higher posts of the country.
Visually impaired persons are also provided with alternative assistive modes like Braille, tactile communication signs, large print, accessible multimedia, written, and communication technology. Grievance redressal bodies like The Chief Commissioner and the State Commissioner are established and the National and State Fund is set up so that the rights of persons with disabilities can be efficiently protected and promoted. Chapter 16 of the act prescribes heavy penalties for the contravention of the rules so that the act does not turn to be toothless.
Hence, on the touchstone of aspirations of visually impaired persons, the act appears very promising and imbibes various rights and cherished goals of persons with visual impairment. It certainly gives birth to new possibilities in all spheres of life. But, the rosy picture is not free from prickles. There are various lacunae in the act. Under the schedule of the act, the terms ‘blind’ and ‘low vision’, are separately defined but, the act does not contain specific provisions for them based on their special needs. The provisions related to the issues of who will bear the financial expenditure and what would be the source of the funds are very ambiguous. Furthermore, it might be detrimental to give discretionary power to the states and the ministries in the matter of fund expenditure. There are no mandatory provisions for the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sectors and ensuring an accessible environment. Besides, the act does not create any separate and autonomous redressal body to deal with the cases of violation of the rights of persons with disabilities in a speedy manner. The act also fails to provide any roadmap to ensure inclusive education for children with disabilities.
If truth be told, the real problem is that most of the provisions are mere decoration on the papers. As per the study conducted by the Disability Right India Foundation across 24 States, more than half of states have not even notified the State rules. The governments are not willing to implement the provisions of the act as persons with disabilities are not useful for their vote bank politics. Each and every step, persons with disabilities have to go to the court to enforce the provisions of the act. But, many a time, the court also turns its back on the concerns of blind persons like the judgment related to the implementation of 13 point roster system and barring more than 50% visually impaired person to be a civil junior judge in the case of Surendra Mohan v. State of Tamil Nadu 2019.
In a nutshell, India is home to the world’s largest number of visually impaired persons, and being a developing country, there exists numerous social-economic and physical barriers for them. Although this act has really opened the doors for infinite possibilities for a person with visual impairment, all the existing lacunae of the act need to be addressed as soon as possible. Moreover, In order to ensure the all-encompassing development of visually impaired persons, all the wings of the government, non-governmental organizations, and individuals should endeavor to implement the new game-changer act in both spirit and letter.
(The author is the student of the penultimate year at Faculty of Law, JMI)