Daily News Analysis

Charting a path to disability inclusion in politics

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Context: On December 21, the Election Commission of India released an advisory for political parties to follow disability-sensitive terminologies.

About the guidelines:

  • The advisory comprises 11 guidelines falling into three main categories: disability-inclusive communication, accessibility of information, and inclusion within party frameworks.
  • Communication guidelines emphasize avoiding ill-health terminologies for persons with disabilities (PwD) and refraining from dehumanizing language or perpetuating stereotypes.
  • Accessibility guidelines focus on ensuring information on political party websites is accessible and holding events at places that are easily reachable.
  • The third category involves developing training modules on disability for party workers and striving to include PwDs at all levels of a political party.

Need of such guidelines:

  • Recent instances have underlined the need for these guidelines. For example, in September 2023, Tamil Nadu leader A Raja compared Sanatan Dharma to people with leprosy and HIV in a derogatory manner.
  • National leaders have also used disability in a demeaning manner, especially during election speeches. Such instances dehumanise PwDs and perpetuate stereotypes, resulting in an “attitudinal barrier” under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
  • Political inclusion is an ignored aspect within the Indian realm of disability.

The recently released Election Commission of India guidelines for political parties on disability sensitivity are viewed as a positive step, but there are identified areas for improvement:

  • The guidelines are advisory, with varying levels of mandatory language across different sections, leading to a lack of uniformity in enforcement.
  • Not being part of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) raises concerns about the effectiveness of these guidelines. Breach consequences are specified only for disability-inclusive communication, leaving uncertainty for other guidelines.
  • Ambiguities in phraseology, such as labeling terms like "blind," "deaf," and "dumb" as wrong, require clarification. A comprehensive list of disability-sensitive words from the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy can enhance clarity.
  • The absence of a chapter on political inclusion in the draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and the need for accessibility norms in political parties indicate a potential gap.
  • The absence of data on legislators with disabilities is highlighted, emphasizing the need for incorporating a disability column in nomination forms to address this informational gap.
  • To catalyze political inclusion, a dedicated chapter on political inclusion should be added to the national policy, aligning with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The upcoming 2024 elections present an opportunity for the Election Commission of India to rectify these issues, marking a significant step toward the political inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PwD).

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