The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled has released a statement criticising the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities’ proposal to set up a separate university of disability studies and rehabilitation sciences. The government has given only nine days for stakeholders to respond to the 131 pages’ long draft proposal, a mere eyewash of a procedure as claimed by the NPRD.
According to the statement dated December 26, NPRD stated that the Draft University of Disability Studies and Rehabilitation Sciences Bill, 2021, attempts to do away with the distinction between disability studies and rehabilitation sciences, as the University aims to “to train and develop professionals, researchers and educators in disability studies and rehabilitation sciences”.
Not only that, the latest proposal comes at a time when discussions on the proposed amendments to the Rehabilitation Council of India Act have not even taken place, the NPRD claimed. This, the disability rights forum stated, is an example of the government “misusing” the pandemic situation “to rush through another ill-conceived idea denying adequate time or space for stakeholders to respond”.
Further explaining the differences between disability studies and rehabilitation sciences, the statement said that “disability studies is an academic discipline that examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of disability, as opposed to rehabilitation, which is a process aimed at enabling the disabled to reach and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and social functional levels leading to their independence”.
In the absence of sufficient rehabilitation professionals and upgraded skills and facilities, the reason behind this proposal for a separate university to bridge this gap remains “unexplained”. Additionally, there is already a Rehabilitation Council of India, which is mandated, in the main, to regulate and monitor the training of rehabilitation professionals, which raises serious concerns about the proposal for a separate university.
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Also, Sec. 47 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act mandates the government to promote “teaching and research in disability studies including establishment of study centres for such studies” in all universities, the NPRD said. The RPD Act also talks about inducting “disability as a component for all education courses for schools, colleges, university teachers, doctors, nurses………” etc.
As part of this, several universities in the country including IGNOU;Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala; NALSAR, Hyderabad; Ambedkar University, Delhi; Gauhati University, Assam; to name a few, already have established centres and programmes for disability studies. There is also the Dr. Shakuntala Misra Rehabilitation University in Lucknow, with the stated objective of facilitating and promoting “studies, research and extension work in the emerging areas including rehabilitation courses…..”, according to NPRD.
Under such circumstances, the new proposal for a separate and self-sustaining university, keeping with the New Education Policy 2020, is completely unacceptable for the NPRD. Such self-sustaining universities, with their finances being generated from tuition fees, affiliation fees etc., will further deprive students from the marginalised sections, the statement said.
The statement also highlighted that the government had earlier denied approval to upgrade the National Institute of Speech and Hearing, Thiruvananthapuram into a National University of Rehabilitation Sciences and Disability Studies, despite the 2015-16 Union Budget announcing the same. But rather, the government’s latest proposal to develop self-sustaining segregate centres of learning is part of its attempt to promote privatisation and has been as a “waste of money” by the NPRD.
Instead the NPRD statement has demanded that the government should adhere to the guiding principles of the RPD Act of equality and non-discrimination and adopt and promote an inclusive, multidisciplinary approach.