“SINCE 1996, when the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PWD Act), came into force, by far the majority of cases taken to court have been about equal opportunity in public employment, that is, reservation of jobs for persons with disabilities and related matters such as promotions, identification of posts and eligibility. This struggle is in many ways not that different from the caste and gender battles for affirmative action in government employment. For any marginalised group, including persons with disabilities, equality in employment is a benchmark for full participation in society.
In Union of India vs National Federation for the Blind and Others, the Supreme Court passed on October 8 a landmark judgment in this battle on reservation of jobs for persons with disabilities. The PWD Act, though a restricted statute mainly concerned with providing reservation in jobs and seats in public employment and education, has slowly been nudged by courts, lawyers and disability rights activists to become far more progressive than was ever imagined. Section 33 of the Act states that “every appropriate government shall appoint in every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than 3 per cent for persons or class of persons with disability…”. Section 32 requires the appropriate government to identify jobs for persons with disability and review the list of identified jobs every three years.”