It’s 25 years since United Nations General Assembly proclaimed on December 3 the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which aims to promote the rights and well being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development. This year marks a special observance as it gets linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda 2030, which pledges “leave no one behind” and where disability is referenced in various action components. The observance of the day calls for raising awareness and promoting the rights and perspectives of persons with disabilities around the world. It brings focus on criteria of inclusion, on mobilising action plans for mainstreaming disability with data collection and monitoring of social policies, education and employment opportunities, safeguarding the dignity of persons with disabilities by promoting their rights, making healthcare accessible, ending stigma, stereotyping and discrimination for children, men, women and older persons with disabilities. Clearly there is need for the integration and empowerment of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
These concerns become imperative as world statistics indicate the ever-increasing numbers of persons with disabilities specially in developing countries. Currently around 15 per cent of the total world’s population lives with a disability, making it the largest minority group and females have higher rates of disability than males. Rates of disability are increasing besides many other reasons and causes due to population ageing and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes. People with disabilities encounter a range of barriers when they attempt to access services, facilities and healthcare. The lack of appropriate services for people with disabilities is a significant barrier to social provisions and healthcare. There are a number of physical barriers in accessing healthcare and public facilities, for instance, uneven access to buildings, and inaccessible medical equipment, poor signage, narrow doorways, internal steps, inadequate bathroom facilities, and inaccessible parking areas, etc. Stigma and discrimination are among the underlying factors thwarting the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities in their societies. The lives of people with disabilities are made more difficult by the way society interprets and reacts to disability, which requires environmental and attitudinal changes. In most developing countries, in general, and particularly in Asia, there is lacuna of scientific evidence on the nature and magnitude of issues to promote policy response for inclusion of support and protection to people with disabilities across the life span.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the UNGA in 2006 and came into force in 2008, sets out the legal obligations of States to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities in society and development. For instance, many of the Articles of the Convention provide concrete framework for action. Article 1 and 4 relate to people of all ages without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability; Article 8 raises awareness and promises to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life; Article 9 brings attention to issue of accessibility; Article 16 refers to freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse; Article 19 to living independently and being included in the community; Article 20 to personal mobility; Article 23 to respect for home and family; Article 25 reinforces the right of persons with disabilities to attain the highest standard of healthcare, without discrimination; Article 26 to habilitation and rehabilitation; Article 27 on work and employment; and Article 28 on adequate standard of living and social protection. India ratified the UN Convention on October 1, 2008 and consequently proposed in 2011 census to move from traditional approach of asking one about disability to one based on a functional approach consistent with the International Classification of Functioning.
In recent times, it is encouraging that many countries across continents have taken various steps to make social development programmes inclusive. There have been good practices in policies, programmes and relevant activities, which are helping countries in achieving sustainable and resilient society for all. Two years back India launched an initiative called Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan, a programme with the design of disabled-friendly buildings and human resource policies. The highlight of this worthwhile initiative is to make in the next couple of years or so government buildings, public transport system and information and communication ecosystem disabled friendly, to make the overall environment inclusive and have equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. The programme comes with an index to measure the enabling contents to keep it non-discriminatory. However, the success of this campaign would depend on how much the Centre and states keep the focus on this and make it a part of their development agenda. The implementation of the programme needs stringent watch and strict penalties for non-implementation and strong law to safeguard the interests and rights of the persons with disabilities. There should be mandatory universal accessibility laws for buildings, products and services, etc. While the government contribution in this direction can be noteworthy, for better results engaging private sector, civil society proactively is also necessary as together they can advance the resilience and sustainability of society and development to make environments enabling and friendly for persons with disabilities.
The writer is associate professor, department of sociology, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi, with specialisation in health, gerontology and development studies. Email LittleThingsMatter@gmail.com