Empower and Enable the (Dis)-abled
On the occasion of the United Nations International Day of People with Disability 2015, IDIA is very happy to announce the launch of our new IDIA Disability Access Programme (“i-DAP”) team! One of our core objectives since IDIA’s inception has been to contribute to making the legal ecosystem more disabled-friendly. IDIA has sensitised, trained and supported many students with disabilities, as well as undertaken policy research and reform for making legal education and legal profession more accessible to students with disabilities. While there is still much to do, we can take heart that eleven students with disabilities, trained and supported by IDIA, are currently studying in various top National Law Universities, and that our advocacy efforts have lead to multiple national law universities purchasing and installing disabled-friendly equipment, as well as introducing disabled students-friendly policy measures. We have also advocated for a disabled–friendly entrance examination and made representations before the CLAT Committee in 2012 highlighting the disadvantages faced by students with disabilities. The CLAT Core Committee had agreed with our suggestions, and allowed candidates with disabilities to avail of scribes from CLAT 2012 onwards.
December 3rd has been celebrated as the ‘International Day of Disabled Persons’ since 1992. The theme, as selected by the UN this year is one that goes directly to the spirit of what IDIA advocates: “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities”, and with the formation and launch of our i-DAP team, we aim to create a bigger impact in leveling the playing field.
Creating Inclusive Legal Materials: Honouring the Legacy of Rahul Cherian
One of the first projects of i-DAP will be to create a platform to enable persons with disabilities to easily access legal texts and materials. This project will be dedicated to Rahul Cherian, who along with several others advocated for reforms in copyright laws of India that made it possible to convert existing texts to accessible formats for the people with disabilities. This advocacy effort has been captured in the article titled “The Disability Exception and the Triumph of New Rights Advocacy” which was co-authored by Rahul with Sam Taraporevala and Shamnad Basheer (See NUJS law Review, Volume 5 Issue No. 4 – 2012). See also this piece in SpicyIP which documents this.
Rahul Cherian was one of the ardent supporters of IDIA and was part of IDIA’s Board of Advisors. Unfortunately, we lost him too early due to a strange twist of fate. He was one of the finest activists and advocates and is sorely missed. This new project is part of the legacy of Rahul Cherian and an example of his values and vision. For a touching tribute to Rahul Cherian and his legacy, see this piece by Lawrence Liang.
i-DAP Team: Formation and Composition
The i-DAP team will function as a specialized national vertical team within the IDIA structure that will focus exclusively on the mission of improving inclusiveness for persons with disabilities within law schools and legal working environments. The team will comprise of 18 student volunteers from various top Indian law schools, and will be led by Raveena Rao and Maitreya Shah. Raveena is a 3rd year student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, who has prior experience of working on several socially relevant research projects, and Maitreya is a 1st year law student from the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, who brings to the table his real life experiences of overcoming exclusion due to his visual impairment. All of the team members have been chosen through a multi-stage selection process. The rest of the team comprises of the following members:
- Jahnavi Visvanathan (4th year, W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)
- Saral Minocha (4th year, National Law University Delhi)
- Veena Raghav (4th year, National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad)
- Yogini Oke (4th year, W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)
- Aishaani Srivastava (3rd year, National Law School of India University, Bangalore)
- Ragini Gupta (3rd year, National Law University Jodhpur)
- Sammanika Rawat (3rd year, W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)
- Saumya Khedwal (3rd year, Amity Law School, Delhi)
- Aratrika Choudhuri (2nd year, W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)
- Karishma Srivastava (2nd year, National Law University Delhi)
- Madhavi Singh (2nd year, National Law School of India University, Bangalore)
- Manvendra Singh Jadon (2nd year, National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam)
- Pranav Mehta (2nd year, National Law School of India University, Bangalore)
- Saista Parwin (2nd year, National Law University Odisha, Cuttack)
- Shreyangshi Gupta (2nd year, W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)
- Siddhant Sachdeva (2nd year, National Law University Delhi)
We’re fortunate to have a strong advisory group for the new i-DAP initiative as well that includes: (i) Mr Amar Jain, a corporate lawyer; (ii) Mr Rahul Bajaj, a student at Nagpur University; (iii) Mr. Moiz Tundawala, Doctoral Candidate, London School of Economics; and (iv) Ms. Vidushi Kothari, L.LM. Candidate, Indian Law Institute.
i-DAP Team: Objectives and Activities
In the next one year, i-DAP team aims to identify the key challenges faced by law students with disabilities in educational institutes and workspaces. By creating support-systems for law students with disabilities, the team will aim to address these problems and enable them to compete at par with their peer group. These support systems will involve innovative solutions that are created through active participation of students with disabilities, as well as a host of stakeholders across disciplines.
Internal support systems will focus on enabling these students to overcome the exclusion they face on a regular basis. These will include provision of technical training to students with disabilities, and creating awareness about alternative means of communication among law school students and staff. External support systems would focus on creating disability-friendly and inclusive workplaces and legal educational institution. This will include creating awareness about the duty that both public and private sectors institutions, including universities and workplaces, have towards providing infrastructural support to ensure equitable access for persons with disabilities.
The formation of a dedicated i-DAP team is a leap forward by IDIA in fostering diversity in the legal profession. i-DAP will bridge the gap between the letter of the disability laws and the real-world impact of such laws. It will seek to make a difference in the everyday lives of students with disabilities, who have been excluded from the mainstream legal education and profession. With the help of our dedicated student volunteers for i-DAP, IDIA hopes to create an unprecedented impact in the educational and professional empowerment of youth with disabilities.
Written by Vineet Bhalla, Assistant Director, IDIA