The Academic Council of the West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS), Kolkata unanimously passed the Policy for Persons with Disability, 2022, in an effort to make the campus disability-friendly.
The policy gives voice to the values of reasonable accommodation, universal design, physical, digital, medical and academic accessibility, among others.
It also envisions the creation of an internal committee for students with disabilities and a Centre for Disability Rights and Equal Opportunities at NUJS for overseeing its implementation at the ground level.
The drafting committee consisted of Professor Sreenivasulu NS, Assistant Professor Vijay Kishor Tiwari, Chandrika Bothra (Batch of 2022), Prakhar Srivastava (Batch of 2022), Tanishk Goyal (Batch of 2023) and Vishwas Agarwal (Batch of 2023).
On the driving force behind the policy, Tiwari said,
"As a person with locomotor disability, when I joined NUJS in December 2017, I wondered what should be a mandate for persons with disabilities like me who experience accessibility issues, to ask for accessibility as a right as opposed to a charity in law schools. During my undergraduate degree at CLC, I remember facing difficulty on an everyday basis to reach class. It reminded me of a friend from Banaras University who could only walk on his knees; I put his lived experiences along with mine at the centre of my deliberation when I came to WBNUJS to teach. At NLUs, I experienced some sensibility on the issue of accessibility, and all efforts in the direction of disability movement were mostly coming from empathy, but not from lived experiences.
It was my observation that even if there are persons with disabilities, law schools were not vocal about the challenges they face. I am now in a position of privilege as a faculty at NUJS where I can speak for the community and for myself. In 2018, we started a diversity survey on campus, where our students presented a report which made it apparent that we need to do a lot to make the campus accessible. This is where the idea of the policy emerged. The Vice-Chancellor, faculty and students were very supportive of our efforts in drafting the policy."
"When people with lived experiences get involved in policy-making, they put themselves at the center of debate. At WBNUJS, we are now in the direction of walking the talk. I don't want my students to face the same difficulty as I did. They should feel safe and loved on campus," he concluded.
Speaking to Bar & Bench on some of the key characteristics of the policy, Goyal said,
"The policy was given an in-principle approval last year, but it was only in May 2022 that all the provisions were passed. On the aspect of examination accessibility, upon request, scribes can be made available to students with disabilities. They will be given project extensions. Grace marks for students with mental disabilities like ADHD will be provided. With respect to digital accessibility, the policy provides that the University computers in the library should have JAWS-enabled ecosystem to assist persons with disabilities with their research and study. The rules of this policy are yet to be framed."
"The Centre for Disability Rights and Equal Opportunities at NUJS will ensure that the vision of the policy is expanded, among other things. One of its initiatives was implementing an elective course on disability which is now offered to students in the final year," he added.
On the other initiatives taken up as part of the Disability Project which resulted in the launch of the Prof (Dr) Shamnad Basheer IDIA Accessibility Lab in 2020, Goyal said,
"There were significant developments made to the physical infrastructure as part of the project. For example, all the classroom doors and lift markings also have braille indicators; ramps have been installed so that all the common spaces are accessible to persons with disabilities. The University has also just constructed disability-friendly washrooms both in the hostels as well as in the academic block. A voice announcement system is also in place in the lifts of the hostel and academic block so that visually impaired students know which floor they are on.
Apart from this, the faculty has also been sensitized to grant reasonable extensions and circulate reading material in accessible formats. Also, University notices are now being made available in PDF formats for better accessibility. The scanned copies are slowly being done away with, as they are not accessible," he added.
The development follows the launch of the Accessibility Lab at NALSAR, Hyderabad, which took inspiration from the one set up at WBNUJS.