Systemic Delays, Red Tape Plague Disability Rights Space in India, Say Activists and Experts

There is a dire need for developing health, education and other infrastructure, but an unaware or insensitive bureaucracy often causes costly setbacks.

Today, December 3, is observed as International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

New Delhi: The development of inclusive systems related to health, online education and tourism are the need of the hour according to disability rights activists.

Most say that systemic delays due to an unaware or insensitive bureaucracy – along with defunding –have adversely impacted the sector in the recent past.

Activists The Wire spoke to said they believe that there have not been too many gains on the ground in the area of disability rights in recent years in spite of conversation on the same.


Founder-convenor of Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) Shameer Rishad said that over the past couple of years, he has discovered that the process of change in the space of disability rights is “plagued with systemic delays due to an unaware, insensitive/desensitised bureaucracy”.

“The situation of the National Fellowship for Persons with Disabilities is a prime example of this. Students who receive this come from humble backgrounds and are dependent on their stipend to continue their education but they have been struggling to receive fellowships for more than two years. Regardless of the space or issue at hand the system is filled with red tape, persons brushing off responsibility and not taking ownership of a situation unless it is handed to them by a powerful authority,” he added.

In August this year, scholars selected for the NFPwD had written to Union ministers and University Grants Commission chairperson, calling the delay in disbursement of fellowships a violation of the fundamental right to equality, The Hindu had reported.


Stating that “disability rights activists need to target access to basic services provided to persons with disabilities through government”, Rishad said, there are “numerous schemes for people with disabilities but none of them are being implemented due to the aforementioned challenges. Further as a sector, activists need to focus on working simultaneously on issues, intersecting or collaborating when there is a genuine need.”

He urged the authorities to “stop defunding disability and properly manage the allocated budget” and said that a recent parliamentary committee report had shown that “there was massive underutilisation of funds which led to arbitrary decision to reduce the funding towards persons with disabilities”.

Rishad also advocated the need to make online education accessible.

“An area we have advocated for and have been following is the accessibility of online education for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This advocacy was only possible as the government could not dispute the Supreme Court’s reasoning to classify this issue as urgent. In spite of that, it took almost two years just to draft and pass various guidelines. Ironically now that physical spaces have opened up, we are following up on the implementation of an advocacy for making online spaces accessible!”


Disability rights activist and doctor at University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi, Satendra Singh, stressed the need for urgent development of disability-inclusive health systems.

Singh, who was an adviser to the recent Missing Billion report, said there should be improved access to assistive technology within all key development sectors.

“We are still relying on an outdated charity model of distributing low quality products in this regard,” said Singh, while calling for developing “an essential assistive products list based on the model WHO priority assistive products list.”

Singh also called for including disability competencies in nursing and dental professions; preparing a national template for reasonable accommodations; amending the constitution to explicitly prohibit disability-based discrimination and repeal Section 3 (3) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, ensuring that its legislation recognises direct and indirect disability-based discrimination.

Finally, he said, there was also a need for disability-inclusive vaccine equity framework in emergencies like COVID-19.

Is India lagging behind?

Another disability rights activist, Simon George, who is a promoter of accessibility and accessible travel and tourism for persons with disabilities, said that recently at the Dubai Accessible Travel and Tourism International Summit, which was attended by around 400 delegates from different countries, he was asked by several delegates from the United Nations as to “why India was lagging behind in accessibility and accessible tourism.”

Stating that he had to explain to them that India was working on this aspect, George said the country needs “four pillars of accessible tourism”. These, he added, include accessible infrastructure, which encompasses airports, railway stations, boat jetties, sea ports, bus stations and waiting places, hotels and tourist places with accessible washing rooms and toilets being spacious and hygienic.

This apart, George said, there was a need for accessible transport which includes accessible cabs and caravans, and accessible trains with accessible toilets. The water transport, involving boats and ships, and air transport, covering planes and helicopters, should also be made accessible.

Finally, there should be availability of accessible digital technologies involving mobile applications and websites of accommodations, transports, tourist places and tour operations that are designed to be in accessible format for visually and hearing-speech impaired, he said.