Worldwide, Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) are most marginalised. Their diversity and extent of disability need customised rehabilitation approach, which complicates the situation further. As per Census 2011, there are 26.8 million PwDs (2.2 per cent of population) in India and therefore inclusive growth cannot be imagined without them.
As defined in Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PWD, Act), “person with disability” means a person suffering from not less than forty per cent of any disability as certified by a medical authority. “Disability” means:
(i) blindness; (ii) low vision; (iii) leprosy-cured; (iv) hearing impairment; (v) loco-motor disability; (vi) mental retardation; and, (vii) mental illness. While the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 (NT Act), includes, (i) autism; (ii) cerebral palsy; (iii) mental Retardation; and, (iv) multiple disabilities.
Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, children with learning disabilities are also covered. They are broadly grouped under Dyslexia (difficulty in processing language), Dyscalculia (difficulty in math skills), Dysgraphia (difficulty in written expression) and Dyspraxia (difficulty in fine motor skills). However despite section 26 of the PWD, Act, 1995; providing access for free education to all Children with Disabilities (CwDs) in an appropriate environment, the education level of PwDs is low.
The objective of mainstreaming of CwDs in the general education system through Inclusive Education was realised when Article 21-A was inserted in the Constitution (86th Amendment in 2002) making elementary education a fundamental right. Its consequential legislation, the RTE, Act, became operative, w.e.f., 1 April 2010.
The Central and State governments are implementing the RTE Act for CwDs through special, regular and open school systems. Section, 26 of PWD, Act, 1995 also requires that appropriate governments and local authorities shall endeavor to promote integration of students with disabilities (SwDs) in normal schools; promote setting up of special schools in government and private sectors so that CwDs living in any part of the country have access to such schools.
There are number of schemes for education of CwDs in regular schools, e.g., Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), National Plan of Action for Inclusion in Education for Children and Youth with Disabilities, 2005, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) & IGNOU.
In India, there are three important legislations addressing education of CwDs, viz.: I. Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992.II. Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995; a nodal Act which provides an enabling legal framework for undertaking measures for providing equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation. III. National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.
The National Policy for Disabled, 2006 recognises PwDs as valuable human resource for the country and seeks to create an environment that provides them equal opportunities, protection of their rights and full participation in society. The National Policy recognises the fact that a majority of PwDs including CwDs can lead a better quality of life if they have equal opportunities and effective access to rehabilitation measures. The three main constituents of the Policy are: I. Physical Rehabilitation, which includes early detection and intervention, counseling and medical interventions and provision of aids and appliance and development of rehabilitation professionals and accessible environment; II. Educational Rehabilitation including vocational training; and, III. Economic Rehabilitation.
To further address issues regarding inclusive development and education of disabled children, National Institutes under Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment along with their regional centers are engaged in developing manpower to cater to the diverse educational needs of CwDs. This Department also provides financial assistance to a large number of special schools run by the voluntary sector.
Thus, for the education of CwDs, both formal and informal education modes are available. Formal education is being provided through regular schools adopting modes like (i) inclusive, (ii) integrated, and (iii) special schools with/without vocational training facilities.
Inclusive education under RTE, Act is implemented through SSA and RMSA for all CwDs with zero rejection policy. Parents have the option of providing home-based education to children with severe disabilities but under RTE Act, this clause is not to be used as an instrument to deny admission by institutions. Inclusive education provides a universal disabled friendly educational atmosphere; while the integrated model provides an accommodative atmosphere; while special schools provide a disabled friendly accessible environment. Special school tends to segregate CwDs from others and level of education imparted could be limited, but at times essential for certain disabilities, as they cater to a customised subset of skills which are required to be imparted, in view of the disability of the child. Inclusive education also provides inclusive growth not only to CwDs but also to their non-disabled peers, who learn and share with their fellow CwDs.
Some important provisions to encourage education of CwDs are:
I. Provision of a barrier-free environment for students with disabilities.
II. 3 per cent Reservation for CwDs in all forms and at all levels of education.
III. Aids and Assistive devices are provided either free or at subsidised rates under Assistance to the Disabled for Purchase/Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP) Scheme or Integrated Education of Disabled Children (IEDC) Scheme.
IV. Exemption from payment of application and examination fee for competitive examinations of Staff Selection Commission (SSC) and Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
V. Scholarships for pursuing higher education such as National Scholarships for PwDs , Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship etc.
VI. Provision of alternative questions to students who cannot attempt questions based on pictures, graphs, etc. for blind and low-vision students.
VII. Provision to write examinations with the help of special devices and equipments.
VIII.Provision for extra time in examinations for students with disabilities.
IX. Vocational training facilities in Vocational Rehabilitation Centres (VRCs) under M/o Labour, NGOs, NIs etc.
The National Policy for Children, 2013 document also reaffirms that the State is committed to take affirmative measures-legislative, policy or otherwise to promote and safeguard the Rights of all children, including CwDs. However despite these measures, CwDs face barriers in realisation of their basic Rights and claim for their rightful place in society. Their abilities are often disregarded and capacities undervalued. They are often condemned to a ‘poor start in life’ and deprived of opportunities to rise to their full potential to participate in society as equal citizens.
Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) is an essential investment for the future of our great country but will need a multi-pronged approach and dedicated efforts by all stakeholders including civil society.