NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has recently issued notice to Central government and all the states on a petition for directions to the respondents to provide in-frame sign language interpreter in all the official press briefings conducted by the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of all states and other ministers of bothe state and union governments in accordance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
The plea filed by a disability rights activist and also the first visually impaired woman advocate practicing at the Madras High Court M Karpagam that the National Census 2011 estimates that, nearly 2.1 per cent of the population in India is disabled.
But, as per the World Bank estimates, nearly 10 to 15 per cent of the population in the country is suffering from some kind of disability. With the enactment of the 2016 Act including 21 different types of disability the numbers are estimated to plummet.
The Census 2011 estimates that, disability population in speech is 7.5 per cent and in hearing 5.8 per cent of the total estimates.
The plea filed by advocate Nupur Kumar in the top court says that India is a signatory and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and has also passed legislation called the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
The petitioner has referred to Section 42 of the 2016 Act, in particular provides, that it is the duty of the appropriate government to provide facilities including sign language interpreters for persons with hearing and speech impaired to make information and communication accessible to this section of people.
The petitioner has cited a case in the USA where National Association for the Deaf where a law suit was was decided in their favour, to enable hundreds of thousands of Deaf and Hard of Hearing ("DHH") Americans have access to critical, potentially life-saving information conveyed by the nation's political and public health leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plea adds that the courts around the World, including the US and the UK have consistently held that no availability of in-frame sign language interpreters during press briefs, especially during the pandemic, during state of emergencies, natural disasters, where imminent information is divulged by the Governments for the knowledge and benefit of the public at large, is in violation of the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Equal Opportunity Act respectively.
The petitioner has also said that there are guidelines from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to provide sign language interpreter once daily in news channels, but many news channels fail to follow the said guidelines in letter and spirit.
The plea emphasises that press briefings are important meetings held by the Head of the State like Prime Minister, President and other Ministers, including Chief Minister of the States to apprise the public at large about the various developments in the Government, initiatives, new schemes and projects for the people and other information of public interest.
"However, all the press briefings held in India are neither inclusive nor accessible. These press briefings serve to be an important way to create awareness and educate the general public about the various developments in the country. The pandemic brought out the importance of accessibility of information to the disabled, especially persons with hearing and speech impairment," it reads.
"That while the entire world was gripped with the uncertainty of the pandemic, when the world was in facing a period of public health hazard and economic emergency, all took to the television to get timely updates on issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, information relating to vaccination drives, schemes of the government etc," it added.