A handbook on ‘Media and Disability Inclusion’ was launched during a press meet in Guwahati in 2019

Guwahati: Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) have been guaranteed equality, opportunity and life with dignity and respect under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016. However, despite the Act, PwDs are at the receiving end of discrimination.

This is largely due to attitudinal barriers and welfare approach that people generally have towards persons with disability. To address this issue of lack of awareness of equal human rights of persons with disabilities, the Social Welfare Department in Assam has taken up a massive awareness initiative across the state. The department has collaborated with Shishu Sarothi, a Guwahati-based disability NGO, to take forward this Awareness Generation Programme to create awareness on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The Act is hailed as a game changer as it has increased the recognised disabilities from seven to 21 and includes a range of rights which were largely not covered in the earlier Act of 1995.

It has also increased the quantum of reservation from 3% to 4% in government jobs and from 3% to 5% in higher education institutes. The Act further casts certain duties and responsibilities on the government to create awareness on disability and rights of persons with disabilities, to build capacity of its manpower including administrative, legislative, judicial, and other stakeholders like media and so on and to ensure barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure, transport systems and in information and communication.

Though we have a strong legislation which secures rights of persons with disabilities, the reality is far from ideal. People with disabilities face innumerable barriers and challenges in accessing rights. Even a basic facility like going out for shopping or to a movie is mostly out of reach for PwDs.

District level awareness programmes organised by Assam Social Welfare Department

Highlighting the rights-based approach, Amvalika Senapati, Deputy Director, Shishu Sarothi said it is high time that the disability dialogue changes from charity to that of human rights and that all persons with disabilities have equal access to all rights.

Lack of knowledge remains the biggest barrier to the success of the implementation of the Act. This is where the state social welfare department’s initiative comes into play.

The awareness generation programme is intended to create awareness on the RPWD Act, 2016 through a series of state, zonal and district-level programs for various stakeholders, using different means for dissemination of information so as to reach stakeholders at all levels. Endeavour is also made to spread awareness through videos, radio jingles roping in social media influencers to spread the word about the Act.

But these programs are just a start. It is hoped that with sustained efforts at awareness and sensitisation initiatives, desired results of effective implementation of the RPWD Act would yield in the years to come.

Also Read: ‘Sensitisation on rights of persons with disabilities 2-way road’

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