The Disability Bill. And how it can make our society more able.

They say that the true measure of your character lies in how you treat those who can do nothing for you. But in the case of civilisations and societies, I think the measure of our evolution lies in how we treat our disadvantaged/ differently abled/ disabled people.

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As far as the evolution of our own emotions go, the base level one is to feel repelled by them – we fear them just because they are different. And we reject them for it. Next comes ridicule. Then we evolve to being curious about what they feel. We feel pity. Then we try to understand them. And that’s when there’s enlightenment. When we realise the need to enable them to live a fuller life.

When more and more of us feel that way, finally, society begins to become what it always should have been: inclusive and supportive of those who are not as fortunate as we are.

But, for the development of society, it’s not enough for some of us feel that way. We need to act that way too.  Which means changing behavior. With rules and regulations that guarantee the rights of the disabled and punitive measures for those who do not allow them those rights.

India is poised to take an important step forward in the evolution of our society with the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill, 2013, being presented in the parliament in the last session, and which, hopefully will get passed in the next session.

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Based on the UN Convention that seeks “to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities”, its definition of the disabled takes a progressive social approach, instead of the usual medical one. The exact words it uses to define a disabled person is:  Someone who has long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which hinder his/her full and effective participation in society equally with others.”

For this to happen, the Bill proposes many Rights and Entitlements, including the right to protection from cruelty and inhuman treatment, the right to inclusive education, home and family, skill development and employment, social security, health and rehabilitation, and even recreation.

The bill also proposes special provisions for those with ‘benchmark disabilities’ (over 40% of a specific disability, certified) – like access to free education upto 18 years of age, and job reservations in government establishments.

The Bill proposes the setting up of a body to ensure responsiveness of all policies and programmes across departments and Ministries towards respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. And also a Central Advisory Board on Disability to advise the Central Government and State Governments.

The penalties for offences can go from imprisonment for 6 months to 2 years, and fines ranging from Rupees 10000 to 5 lakhs. That’s for individuals. Companies too may be punished by prosecution of the people in-charge.

This is the kind of legislation that can move our entire society a big step forward from where it is now by sensitizing more and more people towards the distressing predicament that disabled people and their families find themselves in – for absolutely no fault of their own.

The disabled suffer enough. It’s time to change our attitude towards them to reduce their suffering.

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