Equal Opportunity for Disabled Persons: A Policy Mandate for All Establishments

Apoorv Shishodia

October 10, 2023

Equal Opportunity for Disabled Persons: A Policy Mandate for All Establishments

In a progressive society, it is crucial to ensure that every individual, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, enjoys equal rights and opportunities. Recognizing this fundamental principle, the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 (“RPWD Act”) was enacted in India. This landmark legislation aims to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, fostering their inclusion and empowerment in various aspects of life. The RPWD Act aims to ensure equality, non-discrimination, and full inclusion of persons with disabilities in various aspects of life, such as education, employment, accessibility, and social participation. This article aims to delve into the intricacies of the RPWD Act by specifically examining its provisions regarding the essentiality of formulating an inclusive and comprehensive equal opportunity policy. Additionally, we will undertake an analysis of some limitations or shortcomings inherent within the RPWD Act.

Applicability of the  Rights of Persons with Disability Act

The provisions of the RPWD Act applies to every public and private establishment. As per the RPWD Act, private establishments shall include a company, firm, cooperative or other society, associations, trust, agency, institution, organisation, union, factory or such other establishment as the appropriate Government may, by notification, specify.

Further, as per the RPWD Act, “person with disability" means a person with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others;.

Equal Opportunity Policy

Section 21 of the RPWD Act mandates every establishment to create an equal opportunity policy for their respective establishment. This policy should outline the steps, the establishment intends to take in accordance with the RPWD Act. Additionally, according to Rule 8 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017 (“RPWD Rules”), every establishment must display this equal opportunity policy on their website if possible. If not, they should prominently display it in noticeable areas within their premises.

Rule 8 of the RPWD Rules also specifies certain additional provisions that must be included in the equal opportunity policy for establishments employing 20 (twenty) or more individuals. These provisions ensure that establishments go beyond mere lip service and take concrete actions to promote equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. As per Rule 8, the equal opportunity policy should address issues such as accessible infrastructure, reasonable accommodations, a list of posts identified as suitable for persons with disabilities, recruitment process, special leave, training programs, appointment of liaison officer, and measures to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Vikas Kumar vs. Union Public Service Commission and Ors[1]., dated February 11, 2021, highlighted the increasing role of private establishments in the job market and emphasized their responsibility to create an inclusive workforce. The Apex Court held that private establishments are mandated to frame an equal opportunity policy under the RPWD Act and RPWD Rules. This judicial examination and analysis reinforce the importance of the equal opportunity policy in promoting a level playing field for individuals with disabilities in the private sector.

Drafting of Equal Opportunity Policy

Careful considerations and inclusiveness need to be made while drafting the equal opportunity policy under the RPWD Act and RPWD Rules. The policy must unambiguously show the management’s dedication to providing an equal chance for persons with disabilities. All areas of the establishment’s operations should be covered by the policy; these include recruitment, training, promotions as well as creating a conducive working culture. It should be developed with the involvement of the experts, law firms, and people with disabilities to guarantee that all viewpoints are captured. It is imperative to review this policy periodically and update it so as to cater for changing requirements and developments of accessibility standards. In general, the drafting process should address the principles of non-discrimination, fair play, and all-inclusiveness to ensure that people with disabilities are adequately empowered to access and excel in their field of employment. Additionally, the establishments shall draw up the equal opportunity policy based on the provisions of the RPWD Act and RPWD Rules.

Grievance redressal

As per the Section 23 of the RPWD Act, every Government establishment, should appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer, and such an officer shall be notified to the Chief Commissioner or a State Commissioner. An individual who feels aggrieved as a result of non-compliance with the provisions of Section 20 of the RPWD Act may lodge a complaint with the Grievance Redressal Officer. Then, the said officer will investigate the complaint and work with the establishment to take necessary action. It is important to mention though that Section 23 only applies to public institutions, while there is no explicit provision requiring private institutions to have a Grievance Redressal Officer which is a notable drawback of the RPWD Act. Such an omissions undermines the rights of persons with disabilities engaged in private companies, as it deprives them direct way of appeal and reparation. In the absence of a dedicated Grievance Redressal Officer, people with disabilities in private establishments could experience difficulties when filing complaints about discrimination, violation of their rights or any other problems faced. Therefore, the RPWD Act suffers a major setback in terms of its goal since it does not provide a mandate for the appointment of a Grievance Redressal Officer in private companies, thus, making it difficult for people who have disabilities to enjoy equal rights and opportunities in the field of employment. This calls for urgent action by the government to amend the RPWD Act to include the requirement of appointing a Grievance Redressal Officer in private establishments.

Conclusion

The RPWD Act in India is a significant legislative milestone that aims to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. One key aspect of the RPWD Act is the requirement for establishments to create an equal opportunity policy, which outlines steps for promoting equal opportunities in accordance with the RPWD Act. The establishments shall also formulate the equal opportunity policy in line with the RPWD Act and keeping in mind the interest of the persons with disability. Therefore, establishments shall take a step forward and rather than just including the statutory requirements, establishments shall provide the additional benefits to the disabled persons on their own. In the end, the government shall actively engage in meaningful consultation with persons with disabilities to gather their valuable insights and suggestions. These inputs should then be incorporated into the existing RPWD Act to strengthen the protection of the rights of disabled individuals. By involving the disabled community in the decision-making process, the government can ensure that the legislation is more comprehensive and responsive to the diverse needs and concerns of persons with disabilities.

[1] AIR2021SC 2447

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