In December 2016, the Parliament passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill during its Winter Session. This act, which is an amendment to the 1995 bill, has increased the number of recognised disabilities from seven to 21, including Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and more.
The Tamil Nadu government, in an effort to comply with this new act, announced on May 30, 2017 that the quota for Persons with Disabilities (PwD) has been increased from 3% to 4%. The reservation will offer jobs in educational agencies, government-funded agencies, local administration etc.
While some may hail the decision as a victory for the disabled community in Tamil Nadu, experts and activists raise several important questions for the state government.
“It is definitely a good move, but the 1% doesn’t make a difference until the government comes up with a clear-cut strategy to implement it”, says Smitha Sadasivan, coordinator at Vidya Sagar, a Chennai-based NGO for Rights of PwD.
The main problem with the current strategy of the government is the inability to identify an assortment of jobs for different disabilities and their varying levels.
TMN Deepak, President of December 3 Movement, says, “There are only certain positions in the government that have been identified as jobs for PwD. All jobs have not been made available for them. To ensure 4% of jobs for PwD, they should identify jobs which persons with different kinds of disability can perform as well. The government must understand and identify availability of jobs for different kinds of disabilities”.
“There are people who are partially visually impaired and people who are completely visually impaired. There are people who have both arms amputated, and people whose hearing is impaired through one ear. How does the government bifurcate who deserves the job more? Jobs should be equally available, rated by skill, not by the disability or level of disability of a person”, explains Smitha.
Currently, Section 34 of the 2016 Act for PwD states that every government establishment must reserve 4% of the total number of vacancies in the organisation’s cadre strength. In this, 1% must be for visual and hearing-impaired persons, and 1% for persons with loco-motor disability, intellectual disability and mental illness.
For this, the Chief Commissioner for Person with Disabilities (CCPD) from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment released a list of vacancies in different sectors for various disabilities. These were released under Group A, B, C and D, where designation, physical requirement of the job, categories of disabled suited for the role, nature of work performed and working conditions have been specified.
“At least 3000 - 4000 jobs have been identified. But the gross difference between identified jobs and filling of vacancies is quite a lot, particularly between the federal government and the state government”, says Deepak.
There’s another flaw in the plan. According to Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a member of the Disability Rights Alliance, the benchmark is another problem. “People who have created this act, have just looked at it from a physical point of view. The benchmark of 40% has been set, without taking into account the degree of disability. There are people who are completely hearing impaired and some partially. Based on their degree of disability, they should receive a job, not because of a benchmark.” Additionally, she adds, “How do you measure new disabilities, there are so many of them. They look for a scientific validation and cut-off marks to validate it”.
Another problem identified is that there is a lack of reasonable accommodation for the disabled. Reasonable accommodation is defined by the Ministry of Law and Justice as, “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities, the enjoyment or exercise of rights equally with others”.
“Reasonable accommodation is not considered by the government. A visually impaired person can also use computers today with the use of various technologies”, says Smitha. The strategy here is a failure, as the person’s full potential is not used. If they’re given a job with the stigma that they’re visually impaired and not by understanding that through these technologies, they can be a more useful employee, the system is a failure, explains Smitha.
Resolving these issues will take time. To make life simpler for a disabled person, there is also a need for a major revamp in infrastructural development and maintenance. The National Building Code, Urban Ministry’s guidelines for development and the Niti Aayog guidelines for Persons with Disabilities all outline that public buildings, including educational institutions, government offices and more need to be made more disabled-friendly with ramps, lifts, railings, Braille codes and more. However, this seems far-fetched. According to Smitha, “It’s quite saddening. I think irrespective of public or private, all buildings must be made disabled-friendly”.
The most difficult problem is to break the mental barrier formed in people’s minds. “It’s really not that difficult. Disabled people are looking for a chance to work and are ready to adjust in most spaces. It is the employers’ who should take it upon themselves, expand and accommodate from within to provide equality of opportunity to them. They will then be able to contribute towards the growth of an organisation”, says Vaishnavi.