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Not so accessible after all '(Hindu.)

The government’s own documents are not accessible to persons with disabilities

Irony: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.

Now that we have the definition of irony established, let me explain how that connects with the disability rights movement.

But first, a little context. A landmark year for the movement was 2015-16. A fight that was decades in the making went from a murmur to a resounding roar that echoed through the chambers of Parliament. And that roar led to the passing of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016. From only seven recognised disabilities in the previous archaic Act of 1995 to 21 disabilities now, the new law is a true game changer that provides provisions that will benefit many. This isn’t just a piece of legislation that is the politically correct thing to say. It is the real deal which takes into account real issues like accessibility to infrastructure, technology and information.

We also saw the launch of the Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) in 2015, and it was welcomed for its spirit and intention. The campaign has a heavy focus on not just accessibility to physical infrastructure, but also on Information and Communication Technologies — which is the elephant in the room we need to address.

As per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016: “The appropriate Government shall take steps to ensure that all their public documents are in accessible formats.” The Accessible India Campaign itself has a separate objective and its own targets on enhancing the proportion of accessible and usable public documents. From all the other provisions laid out in the law and the campaign, this needs a special mention since more often than not, people with disabilities miss out on information to do with their own lives because of lack of accessibility.

Attitudinal barriers

And there’s the connect. The irony. Recently, the DEPwD drafted the rules of the new law which have now been made available to the public for comments. The 74-page-long comprehensive document will be scrutinised by many, but not by those whose lives these rules directly impact. It’s ironic that the rules, a public document on the department’s website, are not published in an accessible format to those whose roar made this happen.

I have put out opinion pieces, both in long form and those of the 140-character variety. And I have been a part of the Accessible India Campaign and the department. I chose to play that role to understand the dynamic of the government instead of simply pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

And what did I learn? Attitudinal barriers are here to stay. Formulating an ambitious campaign is a wonderful idea, but what about the barriers within the walls of the system? Change cannot come about if it does not first begin at home. And publishing the rules of the Accessible India Campaign without making them accessible is just ironic in a tragic wa ()


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