The role of government in a civil democracy is to help dismantle barriers so that people can more fully participate in their communities, both for the betterment of their society and for the fulfillment of their personal potential.
But the government working by itself is not enough.
The Nagaland State Government’s notification on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 earlier this year is indeed a significant step. With the act’s enforcement, the Social Welfare Department has also affirmed its commitment to widen welfare programmes for persons with disabilities.
The act prescribes a myriad of provisions covering several aspects like access to education, employment, social benefits, healthcare and general accessibility. All these are positive signs, but they require mechanisms to ensure strict implementation and monitoring.
In a press conference in Kohima last week, Disability Rights Activist, Diethono Nakhro, while echoing the demand for proper implementation of the said Act, made a pertinent point—that ensuring rights for the disabled is not a responsibility solely for the government or any specific department.
To illustrate this point, let’s take an example. Parking spots earmarked specifically for handicapped persons are relatively new here. Yet, when they first made appearance in Dimapur’s roads, designated by new signage courtesy of the traffic police here; they were for the most part ignored.
It is rather appalling to see a number of people who still think it is acceptable to park in disabled bays. The selfish drivers may save a minute, but there’s a longer term effect for people with disabilities.
People need to understand and appreciate why accessible car spaces are so important and think twice. So many people will only use a space for two minutes, but if everyone thinks that way, then there are never going to be spaces available for the disabled. The police to their credit, at least in the main town area, have been vigilant to this, with offending drivers having their vehicles clamped and fines imposed.
The tendency to brush off rights of the disabled as solely the responsibility of the state will always hamper the realisation of their rights. While a few selfish drivers who occupy handicapped parking bays may not denote a society that holds disability rights low in our priority list, how many of us do actively consider them in our everyday activities?
Merely applauding the enactment or even proper enforcement of a law is not enough. We need to live by that law. True progress on this issue will only be achieved, when every individual consciously considers the rights of others who may not have the same access that we do; and work towards their participation in activities which we take for granted.
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