Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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Moving legislation into action: the examples of India & South Africa

By Lucy Wong-Hernandez, Executive Director, Disabled Peoples International (lucywdpiny@aol.com)

(The following article is reprinted with permission from Disability International, magazine of Disabled Peoples International)

Many countries have developed new policies to be more inclusive and create a society where people with disabilities are taken into consideration like all other citizens. Often this social development in the area of social policy has all good intentions, however it may lack a true commitment by governments and the financial resources to make the necessary changes and implement new legislation polices. In examining two countries, India and South Africa, where efforts in favor of persons with disabilities have been made on the governments' part due to the lobbying and advocacy work of organizations of persons with disabilities; I found a great disparity in commitment, implementation and the knowledge that disabled people have about their own national legislation and disability policies. The following is a summary of some of the findings collected from DPI affiliates:


What is the disability legislation in India?

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

What does it say about: Education?

The Act includes free access to education for persons with disabilities, in an appropriate environment until the age of 18.

Promotion of integration of disabled students in regular schools, and setting up of special schools for those who need special education.

Setting up of teacher training institutions to update teacher's knowledge.

Programs to provide transport facilities and supply of books for disabled students.

All government educational institutions and educational institutions receiving aid from the government must reserve at least three percent of their classroom seats for students with disabilities.

Medical Rehabilitation?

Programs to provide medical rehabilitation, aids and appliances to disabled people.

Government programs to develop strategies for the prevention and early detection of disabilities.

Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR)?

The Act that stated " . . . the appropriate government and local authorities shall promote and sponsor research studies and practices in the area of rehabilitation, including community based rehabilitation . . . "

There is no description on how persons with disabilities and their organizations should be involved in CBR programs management and delivery of services.

Labor and Employment?

Every government and public sector establishment to reserve at least three percent of its vacancies for disabled people (one percent each for persons with visual impairment, hearing impairment and motor disability or cerebral palsy).

Setting up schemes to ensure the employment of disabled people, for example promoting training and welfare, health and safety measures and creating non-disabling environments in the workplace.

Establishments shall not dismiss or reduce in rank an employee who acquires a disability during his/her employment.

Employment promotion shall not be denied to a person merely on the grounds of disability.

What does it say about Accessibility?

The transport sector shall, within the limits of its economic capacity, take special measures to adapt trains, buses, vessels, aircraft and waiting rooms to allow easy access to disabled people.

Government local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity:
  • Install sound signals at traffic lights for visually impaired people;
  • Create curb cuts and slopes in pavements for wheelchair users;
  • Engrave zebra crossings and the edge of railway platforms for visually impaired people;
  • Build ramps in public buildings;
  • Install braille symbols and sound signals in lifts.
There are no specific provisions for sign language to accommodate persons who are deaf.

How was the legislation obtained?

It was obtained through continual lobbying by disability activists and Non-Governmental Organizations. It included extensive consultations with officials of the Ministry of Welfare and NGOs organizing protest marches to maintain the advocacy pressure on the government. Press conferences were held to educate and mobilize wider public opinion.

How is the legislation implemented and monitored?

At the central and the state level, there are Coordination Committees; which are the policy-making bodies for the implementation of the Act. Executive Committees are then responsible for carrying out the decisions. All these Committees have at least five representatives from the disability sector.

Clear-cut penalties have not been laid down in the Act for failure to comply. However, the Chief Commissioner and the State Commissioner have powers of the courts for non-compliance of the legislation.

It is not clear how governments will allocate funds to implement the legislation and how society will learn about it.

Has the legislation had an impact on the quality of life of disabled people?

The legislation has helped to shift public attention from providing charity to disabled people to protecting their rights. This shift has brought dignity to the lives of disabled people.

Many doors have been opened to disabled people, for example the right to study in a regular school and the right to opt for higher-ranking jobs.

The Act established the responsibility of society to make adjustments for disabled people. For instance, the University Grants Commission has made a decision to make colleges accessible for disabled people and they have allocated funds for this. Similarly, the Confederation of Indian Industry has included disability in its social agenda and is working towards sensitizing the corporate sector on the issue of employment of disabled people.

How is awareness of the legislation promoted among disabled people?

Little effort has been made to promote awareness. However, NGOs have translated the Act into local languages, simplified the language to make it easier for people to understand, disseminated copies of the Act, and organized workshops for disabled people and other concerned sectors to raise awareness about the Act and to facilitate its implementation.

What are the problems in implementing and monitoring the legislation?

There is lack of political will, financial support and excessive bureaucracy.

Lack of awareness among government departments about the Act.

There is no monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Act.

Lack of awareness among disabled people about the Act.

Lack of strong advocacy groups to influence decision and policy makers.

Are disabled people represented in the national Parliament or local governments?

At the present time, as reported, people with disabilities are not represented in national Parliament or local government. Disabled persons do not occupy any seats in Parliament or government.

What remains to be done in legislation to improve disabled people's quality of life?

The existing legislation needs to be effectively implemented and resources must allocated to make sure the quality of life of life of people with disabilities is improved.

The amendments that have been suggested to the Act should be tabled and passed in the Parliament.

Disability should become an integral part of all national policies. For instance, special education should be part of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (Department of Education) and not under the Ministry of Welfare.

Policies to promote greater participation, representation and involvement of disabled people in the decision and policy-making bodies need to be lobbied for.


What is the disability legislation in South Africa?

It is an anti-discrimination clause in the National Constitution of 1996, which includes disability policies to be implemented.

The government's policy is described in a White Paper, the Integrated National Disability Strategy of 1997.

What does it say about: Education?

The South African Schools Act(1996) requires education for learners with special educational needs to be provided, wherever reasonably possible, in regular schools.

A White Paper for Learners with Special Needs (1999) proposed further changes towards inclusive education.

The Higher Education Act(1997) addresses discrimination against disabled people in higher education.

Medical Rehabilitation?

A Technical Committee on Rehabilitation Policy has been set up by the Ministry of Health to develop a comprehensive policy on rehabilitation.

Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR)?

The Integrated National Strategy on Disabilitystates that CBR " . . . should form the basis of the national rehabilitation strategy" . . . , supported and tertiary rehabilitation services from the Health Department.

Labor and Employment?

The Labor Relations Actprovides some protection for disabled people against discrimination on the basis of their disability.

The Department of Labor assists disabled people to access support services, to gain interview skills, job search skills, and time-management and communication skills.

What does it say about Accessibility?

The National Buildings Regulations set out requirements for an accessible built environment.

By law, ten percent of buses must be accessible to disabled people.

What does it say about sign language?

The Law has recognized South African Sign Language (SASL) as a language of learning.

How was the legislation obtained?

The government put forward its ideas on disability policy in a Green Paper.

Public hearings were held across the county, which resulted in a White Paper (statement of government policy) being published. This was circulated again to interested groups, such as organizations of persons with disabilities before being submitted to Parliament. The process was very consultative with concerned NGOs.

How is the legislation implemented and monitored?

The laws can be enforced through the courts or through the Human Rights Commission. Voluntary organizations report incidences of violation. There have not been many cases in which disabled people have used the legislation, because the laws are still relatively new. Disabled people can receive legal aid from the state to pursue their case in court.

The Office on the Status of Disabled People (OSDP) monitors the implementation of policies by government departments. The OSDP is located in the President's Office and has Disability Desks in all provinces.

Some policies have not been fully enforced. For example, building regulations to ensure accessibility are often ignored.

Has the legislation had an impact on the quality of life of disabled people?

Awareness of disability issues is growing in the country. The President himself is the patron of the national umbrella organization of disabled people, Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA).

The national policy on Welfare Financing provides financial resources to the disability sector.

The number of disabled people in employment is growing - the civil service should be comprised of at least two percent disabled by 2004.

More and more disabled people are getting into high schools and universities, although there are problems of accessibility of transport, buildings and essential services.

How is awareness of the legislation promoted among disabled people?

DPSA promotes the full participation of disabled people in the developing of policies.

OSDP is planing a government-funded disability awareness campaign including training of civil servants and NGOs.

What are the problems in implementing and monitoring the legislation?

Lack of knowledge among disabled people about the policies and their rights.

Government departments do not prioritize disability with in their action plans.

Disabled people's organizations (DPOs) are under-resourced and cannot do much advocacy and leadership training for their members.

Plans in the Integrated Disability Strategy are very ambitious.

The inequalities created under apartheid are difficult to undo in a short period of time, and yet expectations of change are high.

Are disabled people represented in the national Parliament or local government?

There are five disabled members in the national Parliament who were chosen by DPSA. There is one disabled legislator in the National Council of Provinces and two disabled parliamentarians at provincial levels.

What remains to be done in legislation to improve disabled people's quality of life?

Disabled people, especially in rural areas in the townships, need to be informed and educated about the policies and legislation to protect their rights.

The implementation and enforcement of the legislation need to be monitored by a monitoring committee.

All political party leaders in the country need to be educated about disability awareness and policy.

More disabled people need to be trained in order for them to participate with the Parliament and local authorities.

Disabled persons organizations need more resources to strengthen their monitoring and implementation roles.

Policy "focal points" like the OSDP and the Disability Desks should interact with government departments.

There needs to be a "policy network" linking disabled parliamentarians in different African countries. Stronger links are also needed with international disability networks.

Comments: Obviously, more effort and dedication is needed to make this progress on disability related legislation a reality in the lives of people with disabilities. One of the most important issues that needs to be dealt with is the allocation of resources to implement with concrete actions and changes the legislation that government bodies have created. The active participation of people with disabilities and their organizations in the policy development and implementation process is also of vital importance. For this effort to continue, the leadership training and education of leaders among the disabilities community must also become a priority of organizations like DPI and national organizations of persons with disabilities. We have entered the 21st Century with much more than what we have ever had in relationship to disability policies and legislation. Disability issues as viewed by governments and society have changed positively, now the work must continue to accomplish a more unified society worldwide.

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