Disability rights groups have requested the withdrawal of a government proposal to establish a university for disability studies and rehabilitation science. They are led backwards by promoting exclusion and segregation instead of inclusion.
Various disability rights groups, including the National Center for the Promotion of Employment of People with Disabilities and the National Platform for the Rights of People with Disabilities, have written to Shakuntala D Gamlin, Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, speaking out against this move.
In December 2020, the government proposed establishing a “first of its kind” university, covering the full range of disability studies and rehabilitation science in an accessible environment.
In a public announcement on December 24, 2020, the Department for Empowerment of People with Disabilities (DEPwD) of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment invited comments from stakeholders on a bill to establish the university.
“To begin with, we would like to highlight that while the proposed university is unique, it is reversing the disability sector by promoting exclusion / segregation rather than inclusion,” the letter reads.
“It contradicts the progressive nature of the Disability Rights Act (RPWD) of 2016 and the concept of inclusion advocated by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020,” it said.
“There needs to be a great deal of emphasis on establishing centers / departments for disability studies in existing universities and colleges along the lines of cross-disability and gender-sensitive approaches,” he added.
The rights groups said the focus must be on increasing the number of trained human resources by offering courses similar to those offered by NIMHANS / IISC / IITs, including doctoral degrees.
These must also have online alternatives for the delivery of courses based on the universal design of learning and reasonable accommodation under the RPWD law, NEP 2020 and the Government of India and international guidelines for digital platforms.
“Disability studies should be part of the overall academic effort that the proposed university is not doing due to its exclusive approach,” the letter reads.
The bill lacks clarity about the actual disability studies as it focuses more on the governance aspect and also deviates from the norms and practices of the higher education system.
“We also do not agree with the proposal to operate the university in a ‘self-sufficient’ model. Finally, we would like to ask you to kindly withdraw the aforementioned bill,” it said.
The proposed university will be a unique multidisciplinary academic institution that conducts research, programs and courses from undergraduate level to cover various disciplines that cover the full range of disability studies and rehabilitation science in an accessible setting, according to the DEPwD.