Legislation and Policies in India

In a country where appropriate legislation and services for people with disabilities are few and far between, AFA’s grit and determination has made some differences in the minds of the policy makers.

The endeavour to establish effective policies for persons with ASD and their families dates back to 1996, when AFA led a delegation of parents of autistic children from across India to meet the then Ministry of Welfare and lobby for the inclusion of autism in the National Disability Bill. This was the first mobilisation of parents of children with ASD in India, and this action subsequently led to a meeting in February of 1997 with the Joint Secretary of Welfare, the Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and numerous other officials.

In the following years, several advocacy drives and lobbying with the government and policy makers spearheaded primarily by AFA, succeeded in the inclusion of autism in the National Trust Bill– ‘National Trust for Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act 1999’, the first ever legislation to be passed in India that recognized autism as a distinct condition of its own.

AFA has always stressed on the need to formally train professionals to equip them with a deep understanding of autism and teaching methods for people on the spectrum. AFA provided this training while continuing to lobby with policy makers to provide formal recognition to such training programmes the same. Eventually, in 2003, the AFA training course was converted to a one year Diploma in Special Education DSE-ASD under the Rehabilitation Council of India, and this resulted in recognition of other organizations' training courses across the country.

In 2010, marking an extremely important landmark in disability legislation in India, the drafting process of a new Act replacing the existing The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 was initiated. Merry Barua, founder director AFA, was nominated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, to the Committee constituted to prepare the draft legislation. In order to bring to the forefront the specific needs of people with autism, AFA mobilized organisations providing services to individuals with autism across the nation, collated their inputs, and ensured that these specific needs were included in the new draft of the legislation.

In recent times, as the struggle to get the aforementioned bill passed as a legislation continues, AFA, representing the needs of the people with autism in particular, is an integral part of the disability sector, as they sit on ‘dharnas’, organize vigils, meet with heads of state, speak with the media etc. We shall continue with this campaign until appropriate legal reforms for people with autism and related disabilities have been achieved.