Challenges faced in grassroots activism in disability advocacy is focus of 6th Know Your Rights Webinar Series
For inclusion to take root in India, grassroots activism is essential and how to build that and engage communities at the local level was the focus of the sixth webinar in the Know Your Rights Webinar Series organised by the Javed Abidi Foundation, Disability Rights India Foundation and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. NewzHook is a media partner of this series.
Given the range of disabilities and the diversity of India, building a grassroots level movement in disability advocacy comes with many challenges. Having an effective law is just the first step. How does one bring awareness about it across communities in India?
This was the focus of the sixth webinar Grassroots Actions for Disability Advocacy held as part of the Know Your Rights Webinar Series. The panelists were M. Srinivasulu, Founder, National Association of People with Disabilities (NAPD) and Swati Agrawal, Director, Operations, Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA).
Introducing the topic, Najrul Islam, a student at the National Law University, Delhi (NLUD) and volunteer with the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) shared his story growing up with a visual impairment in small town West Bengal. An IDIA scholar, it took Najrul much perseverance to clear a competitive exam and come to Delhi.
Lack of coordination among grassroots groups
Among the key challenges he said is that while there are many individuals, groups and organisations advocating for disability rights at different levels, there is a “lack of coordination among these groups at the ground level. Therefore, information about people with disabilities is not shared, which badly affects their empowerment and restricts their path to becoming community leaders”.
This is critical to ensure that policies translate into action. “Community leaders, with the support of organisations, can play a significant role to spread awareness about the rights and requirements of people with disabilities such as accessibility, education, employment, health facilities, etc.”, he emphasised.
Shameer Rishad, Convenor, JAF, agreed and said this was the main barrier coming in the way of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 making a deeper impact. “It is already three years since the Act was passed but what is really happening at ground level, we need to question ourselves”.
India’s diversity makes advocacy challenging
Srinivasulu, who has over 30 years of experience working at the grassroots level said that sheer diversity makes ground level advocacy in India that much harder.
People in villages are not aware of disability inclusion. The culture of villages has a role to play in the inclusivity of PWDs and for grassroots advocacy to happen, discourse in regional languages is essential. While the RPWD Act provides a lot of rights, there is much difficulty in implementing it at the grassroots level. There is a need for a cross thematic approach in work at grassroots level, for example, a children’s NGO must also pay attention to children with disabilities as they are twice as vulnerable. – M. Srinivasulu, Founder, National Association of People with Disabilities
Issues of people with disabilities tend to get ignored as they are harder to resolve, he added. “When society looks at disability positively, everything else will become easier. An attitudinal change is what we need the most. Parents should take up advocacy, not see disability as something to mourn”.
Challenges faced by disabled law students
IDIA, which is advocating for systemic changes in law schools across India as part of the IDIA Disability Access Program (IDAP), is closely mapping the barriers disabled law students face. According to a 2018-19 IDAP survey in five leading law schools, just over 6% of surveyed students identified themselves as Persons with Disabilities (PWD) under the broader definition under the Act.
“5% reservation should be there according to Section 32 of the RPwD 2016 Act. Only 3.3% of the surveyed students secured a seat under the PWD category. This gap could be there because of lack of awareness and because a number of disabilities are not covered under the Act even under the expanded list”, said Swati. “5.24% of surveyed students said they faced discriminatory attitudes which is very worrying”.
Some of the main challenges faced include accessible campuses, participating in extra-curricular activities due to lack of fluency in English, inaccessible teaching methods, to name just a few. IDIA is helping tackle this in many ways.
“Our student volunteers use mind maps, mental Maths, abacus, helping them imagine the arrangement, helping them pick up verbal clues quickly, asking them to get the questions read before the actual paragraphs in the question, drawing on their hand etc.”, explained Swati.
Then there are the mental health challenges faced for which students need access to counselling and medicines.
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