Oct 20, 2023

Courts Should Be Inclusive When Dealing with the Rights of People with Disabilities

Recently, while hearing a case of a person with color blindness who was denied the post of Assistant Engineer (Electrical) in the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO), the Supreme Court expressed concerns about the standards to be met to meet the criteria for “benchmark disabilities” in India. 

In this Weekly, lets understand who a person with disability is, what benchmark disabilities are and what the court proposed in this case. 

Who is a person with disability? 

A person with disability is a person with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, which restricts their full and effective participation in society equally with others.

Who is a person with “benchmark” disability? 

A person with benchmark disability is someone who has at least 40% of a ‘specified disability’. 

These specified disabilities include :

  1. Physical Disability 
  • Locomotor Disability: Inability to perform activities associated with movement. People with locomotor disability include those with cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack victims, etc. 
  • Visual Impairment: A condition of blindness or low vision. 
  • Hearing Impairment: Deafness or loss of hearing. 
  • Speech and language disability: Permanent disability affecting speech and language.
  1. Intellectual Disability

Significant limitations in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and adaptive behaviour (everyday social and practical skills) including specific learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. 

  1. Mental Illness

Substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that severely impairs judgement, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. This does not include mental retardation.

  1. Disability caused due to: 
  • Chronic neurological conditions: Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease 
  • Blood disorders: Haemophilia, Thalassemia, Sickle cell disease 
  1. Multiple Disabilities: 

More than one of the above specified disabilities. 

  1. Any other disability as specified by the Central Government.

What is the principle of reasonable accommodation? 

This principle promotes equality and prevents discrimination based on disability, health condition or personal belief. It calls for making necessary and appropriate adjustments, while ensuring that they do not impose an undue burden on others, to help PwDs exercise their rights equally in India. 

What did the court say in this case? 

The petitioner, who was being considered for the role, was not hired due to being color blind, since his job required him to work with various color-coded power cables. At the same time, his disability does not fit the category of disability, as defined in the Rights of People with Disabilities Act, 2016. The court held that the twin conditions of falling within the defined categories and also having a minimum percentage i.e. 40% of a disability to be considered a benchmark disability, are creating barriers for PwDs. The court granted relief to the appellant by applying the principle of reasonable accommodation. 

The court emphasized a need for a more rational and inclusive approach to accommodate those who do not fit into these categories of PwDs. 

As in Ravinder Kumar Dhariwal v. Union of India 2021 (13) SCR 823 , the court observed that reasonable accommodation means accommodating disabled individuals based on their capacities. 

In this case, TANGEDCO can make certain accommodations to employ persons with disabilities as is specified in Section 2(y) of the Rights of People with Disabilities Act, 2016. This duty, the Court opined, does not impose any disproportionate or undue burden on the employer. The Supreme Court directed the corporation to appoint and continue the appellant in its service as AE (Electrical) at the appropriate stage of the grade of pay. 

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