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A PARAGIDM SHIFT FROM 'CHARITY' TO 'RIGHTS AND DIGNITY'
The process of drafting and adopting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the member countries of the United Nations has now brought the issues of discrimination and exclusion faced by persons with disabilities to centre stage.
The universal definition and understanding of Disability has rightfully moved from being a merely 'Medical' to a 'Human Rights' framework and heralded a paradigm shift from 'charity' to 'rights based' approach.
Article 1 of the Convention says "The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity."
In Oct 2007, India has become one of the first few countries to ratify this convention a move that has made all of us happy and proud indeed.
Questions usually addressed to persons with disabilities like "When did you become disabled?", "How did you become disabled?" should now make way to discussions and finding solutions on questions such as "Are you getting the freedom and choice to live the way you have wanted at home and in society?", "Does your house/ educational institution / place of work have provisions to enable you to access the toilet safely/ independently?", "Are you able to make use of the public transport?", "Are you able to get education on an equal footing like everyone else?", "Are you getting opportunities for gainful employment?", "Are you able to benefit from the different development schemes from the Govt.?", "Do you get an equal share in the property?" , "Are you being restricted from setting-up your own family?".
In 1995, India enacted "The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act". The various articles in the present Convention further strengthens the above Act by elaborating the various rights, obligations and monitoring mechanisms that the state parties (countries) need to build on/ adopt.
The Convention, in Article 1, further does not limit to only the 7 disabilities (Blindness, Low vision, Leprosy-cured, Hearing impairment, Loco motor disability, Mental retardation and Mental illness) that have been mentioned in the Persons with Disabilities Act but has opened up a wider definition as - "People with disabilities who have long-term impairments, for example, physical, psycho-social, intellectual and who cannot get involved in society because of different reasons, such as attitudes, language, stairs, and laws, which prevent people with disabilities from being included in society." This broad based definition and the recognition of various barriers posed by society assists us to develop a more holistic and sensitive approach in addressing the discriminations faced by persons with disabilities in society.
Following these developments, there is a huge need for creating awareness among persons with disabilities, their care givers, the society at large, and the Government and Non-Government Organisations on the UNCRPD. There is also a need to develop appropriate strategies to review existing laws, policies, programmes and monitoring mechanisms of Govt. Non-Government Organisations and other agencies.
Further, this convention by design is not limited to only Govt. establishments. The Convention states that private businesses and organizations that are open to the public parties have to take initiatives to "eliminate barriers that people with disabilities face in buildings, the outdoors, transport, information, communication and services".
It is no longer enough to be content with providing a few "good willed" services such as a "wheelchair" or a "hearing aid" or "disability pension" . It is going to be whether the laws, policies, programmes and schemes are in line and reinforce the principles of the Convention that focus on Dignity, Ability to choose, Independence, Non-discrimination, Participation, Full inclusion, Respect for difference, Acceptance of disability as part of everyday life, Equality of opportunity, Accessibility, Equality of men and women and Respect for children.
By signing and ratifying this Convention, it is now legally binding on India and other countries of the UN to create and promote an environment where persons with disabilities are able to exercise their civil, political, social and cultural rights fairly and without prejudice.
It is time that Govt. representatives, representatives from Disabled People's Organisations, NGOs and other stake holders sit together and chalk out precise strategies as operation plan to take the Convention forward. If this is not done the Convention will be just another book on the shelf.
Finally, this Convention is about creating a society that recognizes and respects the diverse needs of humankind.
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is at http://www.un.org/disabilities/
- The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act is at http://ccdisabilities.nic.in/
About the author:
C. Mahesh works for CBR Forum, as the Advocacy Coordinator in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities through 87 of their community based rehabilitation programmes across the country. In addition he is actively involved with the Office of the Commissioner (Disabilities) Karnataka and other networks in promoting 'barrier-free' environment and advocating for the effective implementation of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act.
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