Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 17 April 2024

Navigating life as a consumer with disability

Relevance: GS Paper I & II

Why in News?

World Consumer Rights Day, celebrated annually on March 15, aims to promote consumer rights worldwide. However, it often overlooks the unique needs and rights of consumers with disabilities, who do not receive due consideration in the discourse surrounding consumer rights.

Challenges faced by persons with disabilities:

  • Persons with disabilities face the struggle of seeking help for the most basic human activities and the consequent loss of dignity, independence, and privacy.
  • The pervasive inaccessibility they encounter as consumers undermines their right to lead an independent life and prevents them from equally participating in society.

Illustrative Scenario:

  • Imagine yourself in the place of a person with visual impairment heading to the supermarket to buy a toaster. You start by booking a cab ride through a mobile app, but since the app is not accessible, you seek external help to book the ride.
  • The supermarket has no tactile pavements in the building, so you seek external help to reach the electronic appliance section and buy a toaster.
  • When you reach home, you realise the toaster is defective and try to contact the toaster company's customer support. But since the contact details are printed on the outer pack, you seek external help to read them.
  • Discovering that the company only accepts written complaints via postal mail, you once again seek external help to send a complaint to the company.
  • The situation highlights two major challenges for consumers with disabilities:
    • The inaccessibility of goods and services and the inaccessibility of customer support options.
      • The question arises: Who is responsible for this inaccessibility, and who has the capacity to enhance the consumer experience?

Responsibility for addressing inaccessibility:

  • Businesses: Businesses are often not designed to cater to persons with disabilities. Their offerings are typically created for the ‘mainstream’ consumers, making them inaccessible to people with disabilities.
    • In India, persons with disabilities make up 5-8% of the population (World Bank, 2009). Therefore, businesses could consider making their offerings accessible to cater to this underrepresented consumer group and broaden their customer base.
      • This would be a smart business decision that could yield benefits for everyone involved.
  • Government: Effective policy measures can abridge the gap in sensitisation among businesses.
    • For example, FSSAI, in October 2023, issued an advisory to all food business operators to incorporate QR codes containing product information on all food products.
      • This simple yet effective step will allow people with visual impairment to ascertain crucial product information on their own.
      • While transformative, this measure is limited to one type of product.
    • The government could consider bringing comprehensive accessibility guidelines for all goods and services.
      • India can build on the lessons from the initiatives in countries such as Australia, the U.S., and Canada and integrate similar strategies into its policies.

Legal framework for empowering consumers with disabilities:

  • The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWDA), 2016:
    • It is a law that grants a range of rights to individuals with disabilities. These rights include the right to equality, accessibility, and reasonable accommodation.
    • The act also includes provisions for universally designed consumer goods and accessible services (Sections 43 and 46).
    • In addition, the Rules notified under the RPWDA require all Information and Communications Technology (ICT) goods and services to be accessible per the government's BIS standards.
    • If a consumer with a disability believes that their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the Disability Commissions established under the Act.
      • For example, a disabled consumer filed a complaint against the healthcare service provider Practo and the company was directed to make its website and application accessible. Similarly, complaints regarding accessibility barriers in services such as banking, insurance, and hospitality have also been filed.
      • However, it is important to note that Disability Commissions can only issue recommendatory directions and often fail to provide effective redress.
  • Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 2019:
    • It outlines various consumer rights and also empowers Consumer Commissions to impose penalties and award compensation for consumer complaints.
      • For instance, in S. Suresh v. The Manager i/c, Gokulam Cinemas, a person with a locomotor disability who encountered inaccessibility at a cinema hall was awarded a compensation of ₹1,00,000.

Way forward:

  • Aligning RPWDA and CPA:
    • Unlike the RPWDA, the CPA has robust enforcement and compliance mechanisms. However, it does not have any specific provisions for the rights of consumers with disabilities, which may discourage them from filing complaints with Consumer Commissions.
      • Therefore, it is necessary to bring the CPA in line with the RPWDA to cater to the needs of such consumers.
  • Increasing awareness:
    • Although consumer awareness has been a significant focus of the state, especially with the introduction of the flagship Jago Grahak Jago Campaign, consumers with disabilities have never received attention.
      • Therefore, it is essential to increase awareness about the rights and resources available to consumers with disabilities under the two primary legislations.


The challenges faced by consumers with disabilities emphasise the urgent need for inclusive practices and policies. To address these issues, concerted efforts from businesses, governments, and legal frameworks are essential to ensure equal access and protection for all consumers. Fostering awareness and alignment between legislation is paramount in creating a more equitable and accessible consumer environment for individuals with disabilities.

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