The Right to accessible housing for persons with disabilities has been recognized under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in which India is a member state. In furtherance of its membership to UNCRPD, India enacted the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD Act), which recognizes the importance of accessible housing in the preamble itself. The RPD Act also provides several rights such as the right to equal access, right against discrimination, right to live in a community, right to access information and communication technology, and the right to participate in public life, many of which have also been recognized as fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court of India has held in several cases that the right to life extends to standard of living of a person, and that the right to equality extends to equal treatment, equal access, equal participation, and equal enjoyment of an independent life. These rights individually and when combined give rise to a right to accessible housing, which includes the right to accessible and barrier free environment, right to independent mobility, right to access community spaces and facilities, and the right to access community forums, information and communications, among others, equally with others in order to fully participate in community life.
Accessibility in Communities
Accessible community life includes equal access to various aspects of housing ranging from infrastructure and environment to access to information, social and cultural life. As per the law, housing and community life is considered as accessible to persons with disabilities only if such persons have equal accessibility like others in the community. Considering the fact that persons with disabilities cannot access the environment, infrastructure, facilities, information, etc., in the same way as others in a community, some steps, modifications or changes may be required to provide equal access. Such changes may be in the form of exceptions, enabling facilities, accommodations, and so on. Not taking such accessibility steps will expose the community to the risk of rights violation and related legal action by persons with disabilities. While such rights have not been extensively enforced in India, the risk nevertheless subsists.
Proactive Community Action
With the philosophical and jurisprudential move from support and medical model to human rights model, communities are susceptible to legal action by persons with disabilities on accessibility issues, and persons with disabilities are likely to succeed in their enforcement efforts. It It is therefore important for communities to proactively take steps to facilitate access and accessibility to the maximum extent possible. By doing so, they will not only be complying with the law, but will also be doing something that is morally and socially desirable.
Studies have shown that fifty six (56) percent of all accessibility actions can be taken with no additional cost to the community. Also, the cost of basic accessibility measures is less than one (1) percent of the total cost of managing and maintaining a community. This however is not the problem in most communities in India. The problem is with the attitude of the majority of the community, who consider disability as a problem that requires support rather than facilities for independent living. Attitudinally, they do not consider accessibility as their responsibility, and therefore end up discriminating and violating the right to accessible housing.
If communities see persons with disabilities differently, their attitudes will change, and so will the life of persons with disabilities. It is not very difficult to facilitate full/equal participation and independent life in a community if the community wishes to do it. All the community needs is a change of attitude.
Rights under the RPD Act, available at https://www.canefoundation.org/rpwd-act-2016/chapter-2-rights-and-entitlements/, visited on 4th August, 2020.
Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities, available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/resources/factsheet-on-persons-with-disabilities.html, visited on 4th August, 2020.
Housing Good Practices for Persons with Disabilities, available at https://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/desa/good_practices_in_accessible_urban_development_october2016.pdf, visited on 4th August, 2020.
UN HR Office of the High Commission on Right to Adequate Housing for Persons with Disabilities living in Cities, available at https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/download-manager-files/right%20to%20accessible%20housing%20Final%20word%20endnotes%20JO%2004%2008%20%202016.pdf, visited on 4th August, 2020.
Promotion of access friendly environment for elderly and persons with disabilities, available at: http://mohua.gov.in/cms/Promotion.php, visited on 4th August, 2020.
Handbook on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, available at https://le-uploaded-image-bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/le/1501943729_bsEOnYQWTkpwfnNZUgu_15019437298223/2018/08/15/JuFjulrXDodKjRVaFmkA15343248568870.pdf, visited on 4th August 2020.
Standards for design of buildings for aged and persons with disabilities, available at https://cpwd.gov.in/Publication/aged&disabled.PDF, visited on 4th August, 2020.