Volume 3 Issue 23 - December 01, 2005

Tenth year of the Disability Act – It’s time for ACT10N

This year, the World Disability Day has assumed a special significance in India as it is the tenth year of The Disability Act, 1995. The disability sector has chosen the theme, 'The tenth year of the Disability Act Its time for ACT10N'. The idea is to evoke introspection and awareness among the public and all key stakeholders about the non-implementation of The Disability Act, 1995. As part of this campaign, the disability sector has created a logo and has put together a document of 10 Demands, which will be presented to the Central Government for immediate action.

The demands are:

1. Set up a separate Ministry of Disability Affairs or shift it to the Ministry of H.R.D.:

In the past ten years the Ministry of Social Justice has been ignoring the rights of disabled people and instead concentrating on issues involving the Scheduled Castes and minorities, who form a major vote bank. Whatever changes have come about in policies related to disability are because of the advocacy undertaken by the disability sector. In order to ensure that disability is given due priority, we demand:

a) There should be a separate Ministry for Disability issues.

b) If creating a separate Ministry is not possible immediately, it should be shifted to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, as disability is a human resource and a development issue.

2. Appointment of disabled person as Chief Commissioner at the Centre and full-time Disability Commissioners in all States & Union Territories:

The Disability Act 1995 mandates the appointment of Chief Commissioner at the Centre and Commissioners at the State level. Of the 35 States, only eight have a full-time Disabilities Commissioner. The Secretaries and Directors of Social Welfare have been given additional charge of the Disability Commissioners. It has been a long-pending demand of the disability sector that a disabled person should hold all key positions on disability. However, this is the third time in a row that, despite having experienced disabled persons in the list of short-listed candidates, a non-descript non-disabled person was appointed as C.C.P.D.

In order to ensure effective implementation of The Disability Act and minimise the violation of rights of disabled people, we demand a policy decision to appoint experienced disabled persons or parents of disabled children in all key positions on disability, and full time Disability Commissioners in every State & Union Territory of the country.

3. Special drive for the fulfillment of the 3 per cent quota in Government & Public Sector companies and in the poverty alleviation schemes, as per The Disability Act:

The 3 per cent reservation in jobs in the Government and Public Sector companies is not being strictly adhered to. The average rate of employment of disabled people in the Government and Public Sector Undertakings is less than 1 per cent. People with disabilities are not benefitting from the schemes. Most of the disabled people are not even aware of the existence of reservation in poverty alleviation programmes. A Special Drive should be conducted all over the country to fulfill the 3 per cent quota meant for disabled people in all categories of the jobs and in the poverty alleviation programmes.

4. Formulation of an Incentives Scheme for the Corporate Sector to promote employment for disabled people, as mandated under The Disability Act:

According to a Study conducted by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) in 1999, the average rate of employment in the Private Sector is a mere 0.28 per cent. Clause 41 of the Disability Act, which mandates incentives for the Corporate Sector to encourage employment of disabled people in the private sector, is the only clause in the entire legislation, where Private Sector has been mentioned by name. In this era of liberalisation, etc., with jobs in the Government Sector shrinking by the day, it is the Private Sector which has a major role to play. Since there is no quota that makes it mandatory upon them to hire disabled people, the only ray of hope available to us is this Clause! It is almost a decade since the Act has been passed. However, these incentives have not yet been spelt out. N.C.P.E.D.P. has formulated and submitted a Draft Incentive Policy to the Finance Ministry in June 2004. The recommendations listed in the Draft Policy should be seriously considered and the Incentives Policy should be announced at the earliest.

Picture of inaccesible market place 5. Ordinance to ensure barrier-free design and disabled friendly access features in all future constructions and public transport:

Access to public facilities is a basic right of any citizen in general and a person with disability in particular. Even today, buildings and public utilities are being designed and constructed without keeping in mind the needs of disabled people. Access features not only refers to provision of lifts, ramps, etc. for orthopaedically disabled people but also tactile/voice clues for visually impaired people, signage, etc. for hearing impaired people. Access to information is also an important area of concern for visual and hearing-impaired people.

An Ordinance should be passed to ensure that no new public building that does not comply with the provisions of the Disability Act is constructed. A time frame should also be given to make the existing public buildings disabled friendly and a mechanism devised to ensure its implementation.

Buses are an essential mode of transport for 99 per cent of our population. Therefore, without any further delay, disabled friendly buses should be introduced for the general public in at least five metro cities.

6. Development and Standardisation of the Indian Sign Language:

Communication barriers keep people with hearing impairment away from participating in the mainstream activities of the society. Lack of a proper Sign Language in the country poses a major problem for hearing impaired people in gaining education, employment and in social participation. They drop out of school not because they do not have the intelligence but because they do not have a language medium to learn the various subjects. Concrete and time bound steps should be taken to develop and standardise the Indian Sign Language. Sign Language should be given the status of an official language and should be taught in schools and colleges.

Picture of a sign symbol

7. Revision of the list of identified jobs for persons with disabilities prepared in 2001:

According to the List of Identified Jobs prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2001 (following a Supreme Court Order in 2001) disabled people are excluded from 96.48 per cent of the jobs! It has been prepared very shoddily and is full of defects. As a result, careers of deserving and meritorious disabled people are getting spoilt for no fault of theirs. This hurriedly put together list has been adversely affecting the letter and spirit of The Disability Act, which has been enacted to empower marginalised people; to push them upwards. However, here, these so called reservations are actually pushing people downwards. According to the Disability Act, 1995, this list should be reviewed at least once in three years, which has never happened. The Job List should therefore be immediately revised to ensure that such blatant discrimination is put to an end immediately.

8. One per cent reservation in jobs for persons with mental impairments and learning disabilities:

People with mental and learning disabilities are the most marginalised. There is a misconception that persons with mental retardation / learning problems are not educable or trainable. Due to the stereotypical mindset of the policy makers, people with mental impairment have not been provided reservation in employment under The Disability Act. It should be understood that all persons with mental disability cannot be clubbed under one category. Their capabilities vary depending on the severity of their disability. People with mild and moderate mental impairments, are capable of joining the workforce, if given a chance and the right environment. An Executive Order should be passed to provide 1 per cent reservation for persons with mental and learning impairments.

9. Passage of the Amendments to The Disability Act, 1995:

There are certain lacunae in The Disability Act, 1995, which need to be addressed. A Committee was set up way back in 1998 to recommend amendments to the Act. National Consultations were held across the country and the report was submitted to the Government three / four years back.

One of the major lacunae of the Act is the restrictive definition of disability. The Disability Act does not include impairments such as autism, haemophilia, thalassaemia, learning disabilities, etc. There are also certain other lacunae relating to the lack of adequate provisions for people with mental disabilities, women with disabilities, severe disabilities, etc. which need to be addressed. There are certain issues relating to the enforcement of the law, which need to be further strengthened. Hence, it is extremely crucial that the Amendment Bill gets tabled and passed by the Parliament at the earliest.

10. Reconstitution of the National Disability Commission:

The N.D.A. Government, as a result of a sustained campaign by the disability groups, announced the setting up of a National Disability Commission in August 2003. The members appointed at that time were political appointees, with no track record of work in the area of disability. However, we have come to know that the U.P.A. Government has dissolved the Commission. The Commission should be reconstituted with adequate power and status, and right people should be appointed as Members of the Commission.

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