National Platform for The Rights of the Disabled has rejected the Draft on the New Education Policy saying it is profoundly regressive and overwhelmingly undemocratic. In a statement issued today, the forum says it continues to perpetuate the existing discrimination against the disabled. It fails to invoke a rights-based approach and refuses to break away from the traditional method of viewing disability. Despite ‘Access’ being claimed to be a key “guiding principle”, non-availability of the draft in accessible formats, deprives large sections of the disabled an opportunity to go through a crucial document that will be shaping their lives and those of disabled children and adolescents. Only a PDF version is available in Hindi & English. No text version, Braille or audio version has been provided. Such a denial can also be held as a barometer to gauge the impact, within government circles, of the much tom-tomed “Accessible India” campaign”!While the opening message from the former HRD Minister Javadekar claims that the draft was prepared after “unprecedented, collaborative, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up people-centric, inclusive, participatory consultation process”, the appendix attached belies the claim. It does not list any organisation working among the disabled which was involved in the process. Even the nodal ministry, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, the National Trust – are all glaring omissions from the list. Even the Rehabilitation Council of India, which is mandated “to regulate and monitor services given to persons with disability, to standardise syllabi and to maintain a Central Rehabilitation Register of all qualified professionals and personnel working in the field of Rehabilitation and Special Education” does not figure in the list. The lackadaisical approach to matters concerning the disabled gets exposed by the fact that neither the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which India ratified nor the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 have been taken cognisance of in the draft. Both of these have sizeable sections on education. Oddly, it talks of non-existent Persons with Disabilities Act, 2005! With the thrust being towards commercialization, the overwhelming majority of disabled, who come from economically poor backgrounds and study in government schools, will stand deprived further. The proposal to either close down or merge schools to create school complexes, which may be far away and inaccessible, will adversely impact the disabled. The draft talks of school education only and avoids spelling out measures to address concerns of students enrolled for higher education, which for a variety of reasons continues to be inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Despite a host of provisions contained in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, “access” here is merely understood in terms of provision of ramps, handrails and toilets. Even in the matter of physical access, according to reports only 22.4 per cent of schools have disabled friendly toilets and in around 20 per cent of schools where ramps are required, they are absent. Apart from the innumerable issues associated with deploying unqualified “local heroes”, “to formally help students who have fallen behind”, the usage of terms like “Remedial Instructional Aids Programme” is disparaging to a section of students who may for a variety of reasons, not be able to academically ‘perform’ like their peers. Right to Education Act. The Draft NEP is completely oblivious of special schools and their role. The status of such schools, run mostly by NGOs, which are under the domain of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, is left unanswered.
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