India’s new science policy considers the needs of people with disabilities

first_imgAll public policies should take into consideration the needs of the most vulnerable sections of society. Persons living with disabilities (PwDs) represent one such section of society who are often ignored in the most policy-making process. A disability is defined as a condition or function that is significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual or group. As per the 2011 Census, PwDs accounted for 2.21% of the total population in India. They generally have poorer health, lower education levels, fewer economic opportunities, and higher rates of poverty than the general population. This is mainly due to many obstacles they face in their everyday life and due to a lack of services catering to them. Thus, a stand-alone policy or law meant to serve the basic needs of the PwDs won’t be enough to achieve multidimensional progress in the ecosystem.In India, with the government’s nationwide ‘Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan)’, there has been a push to integrate PwDs in society by achieving universal accessibility. Technology can play an important role in providing convenience in day-to-day activities and ensuring safety for PwDs and can facilitate in making them independent and more productive. Additionally, PwDs are underrepresented in STEM today because they have minimal access to facilities, programs, and equipment and are often unaccepted by educators, employers, and co-workers.The draft of the 5th national Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020) is the first science policy in India that has exclusively mentioned about inclusion and equal participation of PwDs in the science ecosystem of the country. The policy rightly addresses the issues of inequitable participation of various groups in STEM and also acknowledges the absence of an inclusive culture in the practice of science, including inadequate incentives and institutional arrangements. However, unlike previous policies, it does not limit its inclusion theory to gender and socio-economic groups only, rather it is more broad-based and clearly addresses the issue of inclusivity of people with disabilities.“………….the STI Policy aims to address discriminations and inequities based on gender, caste, religion, disability, geography, and language for the advancement of STI.”It also mentions some policy interventions that are required to bring about structural and institutional transformations for the participation, promotion, retention, and incentivization of such excluded and marginalized, and vulnerable groups. Some of the interventions are tailored specifically to the need of PwDs such as :“………Differently-abled individuals, including Divyangjans, will be given special attention. Institutions are to be mandated to make structural and cultural changes for supporting such excluded groups, in order to pursue and practice STI.”“…………National research and innovation program on Assistive Technologies and Learning Resources to be created. The program will promote the use of technology to create interactive personalized learning environments, for students with specific learning disabilities at school as well as in Higher Education.”Whereas, there are other interventions that are more general but would also have some positive impacts on these communities. The policy has the vision of providing special provisions in changing institutional mechanisms to enable a better and more inclusive ecosystem while removing barriers as it mentions:“….It will remove barriers to participation, promotion, and incentivization and ensure the recruitment, retention, and effective engagements of the excluded groups and marginalized communities. The given mechanism will also take into account the following aspects:i. Provisions will be made for sensitization, orientation, counseling with regard to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, language, and disability, prior to initiation of training, education, recruitment, and/or funding. Ethical training on sensitivities of various biases-invisible or otherwise- must be imparted to all.ii. Regulatory provisions are to be strengthened for ensuring examination and inquiry of complaints about discrimination, biases and harassment. It will be followed by disciplinary action proportionate to the severity of the offense, as is done for other forms of ethical misconduct.”“……Statistics will be collected on drop-out rates of women, Divyangjan community,…….. in science education and research.”Further emphasis has been laid on strengthening distance learning programs with appropriate technological means, in order to improve their quality and reach. Such provisions will help PwDs to get access to quality education from the comfort of their home.In terms of capacity building, clear policy directions have been laid out for the inclusion of PwDs and promoting such social order through special schemes, scholarships, need-based training, and orientation programs. A special initiative has been mentioned about creating a National research and innovation program on Assistive Technologies and Learning Resources. Such programs are important to promote the use of technology to create interactive personalized learning environments, for students with specific learning disabilities at school as well as in Higher Education.The recently released National Education policy also raised concern about some of the issues faced by PwDs. As such these policies set out a very good example of being inclusive in its essence towards more vulnerable groups of the society in terms of physical ability. However, it is important that these policies clearly define the spectrum of disability that they aim to target as that would be important to decide the implementation strategies of the policy directives. Disability is a broad term and usually, only those conditions that include physical and mobility impairments are considered a disability. However, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. It is important to take these into consideration as in many cases including in some of the rare diseases disability might not be visible in body parts but such medical conditions often severely impair the functioning and participation of the affected individuals.Disability is now understood to be a human rights issue. People are not just disabled by their bodies but by society at large. These barriers can be overcome if governments, non-governmental organizations, professionals, and PwDs and their families work together. There is a need to work towards mitigating the effect of disability on a person’s life by enabling equal opportunities, accessible infrastructure, and understanding from society. This can be achieved only if the public policies of the country are inclusive of the needs of PwDs.last_img read more