Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

India Shinning, But Disable Falling

A new World Bank report finds that in the decade since economic liberalisation, as India achieves unprecedented levels of economic growth, low employment and literacy rates among the disabled mean that India’s 90 million disabled people are not benefiting from that growth. The report stresses the need for a multi-sectoral and multi-faceted approach so that the full potential of India’s disabled population is realised.

Despite enacting landmark legislation to promote the rights of persons with disability in the past decade and an increasing awareness of their marginalisation, India’s actions to promote the rights of 8% of its 1.1 billion citizens has been found wanting, according to ‘People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes’, a new report released by the World Bank.

Commissioned by the Indian government in 2004 to benefit from the experience of the World Bank which has examined issues surrounding disability in other developing countries, the report explores the social and economic situation of a group that numbers around 40 million people, according to the most conservative estimates, and up to 90 million according to unofficial figures.

‘People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes’ finds that there has been a 5% drop in the employment rate of physically-challenged individuals in the decade leading up to 2002. The consequent increase in the gap in employment between the disabled, who have a far lower employment rate than the general population, and non-disabled people, according to the report, is cause for major concern.

The fall in the employment rate of working age disabled people from 42.7% in 1991 to 37.6% in 2002 was, according to the report, almost universal across the country and also across all education levels.

Maintaining that it is not desirable or possible for the public sector to “do it all”, the report finds the private sector has been negligent in this regard. “Private sector employment incentives for hiring disabled people are few and piecemeal,” it says. In the late-1990s, employment of people with disability among large private firms was only 0.3% of their workforce. Among MNCs, the situation is far worse, with only 0.05% of the workforce constituting people with disability.

The report also finds that there were substantial differences in socio-economic outcomes, social stigma, and access to services by disability type, with those suffering from mental illness and mental retardation in a particularly poor situation. In surveys carried out for the report, around 50% of households saw the cause of disability as a “curse of God”, the report says.

The report finds that disabilities seriously compromise economic prospects. “People with disability are subject to multiple deprivations with households with disabled members being significantly poorer than average, having lower consumption and fewer assets,” says the report. For instance, children living with disability are around four to five times less likely to be in school than children from scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, according to the World Bank report.

With better education and greater access to jobs, India’s disabled people would generate higher growth and thus benefit the country as a whole, the report adds. “Disabled people who are better educated and economically more active will generate higher growth in which everyone will share,” says Philip O’Keefe, the Bank’s lead social protection specialist in South Asia human development and the main author of the report. “Increasing the status and social and economic participation of people with disability would have positive effects on everyone, not just disabled people,” says O’Keefe.

The Indian government has generally supported the World Bank’s recommendations and taken steps to provide cheap travel, government jobs and university places for disabled groups, O’Keefe added.
Another worrying revelation in the World Bank report is that India may be grossly underestimating the number of its citizens living with disability, both mental and physical. There are far more physically or mentally disabled people than the best government estimates suggest, the report says, making it more of a ‘guesstimate’. For instance, the report finds that approximately one in 12 households in India has a disabled member, compared with the one in 50 counted by the latest National Statistical Survey.

In terms of future predictions, the report says that as the country makes economic progress, the incidence of communicable disease-induced disabilities such as polio were likely to fall, whereas age and lifestyle-related disabilities and those due to traffic accidents are expected to rise sharply. For example, the lowest reported disability rates are in sub-Saharan Africa while the highest are in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. “This is an issue that will continue in India and probably increase in India as it gets richer and as it gets older,” says O’Keefe.

A decade after a law came into force promoting the rights of persons with disability to full economic and social participation in society, progress has not reached near the desired level, the World Bank report observes. The report characterises India’s policy framework on disability as “progressive”, but says it is poorly implemented and virtually disappears at the panchayat or village level. “India’s action in providing help to the disabled was generally weak, and there was lack of awareness of available services among the disabled,” the report says.

Isabella Guerrero, country director for India, World Bank, appreciated the policy regime put in place by the government for disabled people. “India has an impressive set of policy commitments to its citizens with disability. The challenge facing Indian society now is to translate those commitments into better lives for disabled people,” Guerrero said while releasing the report. “The real challenge is to get the policy framework into practice, particularly in rural areas and the further down the system you go,” agrees O’Keefe.

O’Keefe’s concern is borne out by the fact that as far as the states are concerned, despite the approval of a national policy for the disabled in 2006, only two states out of 28 -- Chhattisgarh and Karnataka -- have draft disability policies.

Javed Abidi, founder of the National Centre for the Employment of Disabled People and an activist who has fought many high-profile legal battles to ensure the rights of the disabled, says he questions the commitment of a government that hasn’t enacted sector-specific initiatives for the disabled, even though the national policy calls for them. “Where is an anti-discrimination policy for employment? We don’t have it. Where is the policy for access to transportation and aviation? We don’t have it. Where is the access to education? We don’t have it,” he said. “In jobs and schools, the disabled often simply aren’t there. What we do have is some of the greatest discrimination in this society.”

Noting that India’s implementation capacity is “generally weak in a number of areas of service delivery, which are most critical to improving the situation of disabled people,” the report calls for the involvement of non-public sectors as also greater coordination between public and private institutions. The key step in such partnerships is bringing disabled people themselves into the policymaking process along with public and non-governmental institutions, it adds.

The report recommends implementation of additional policy measures like preventive care for both mother and children, identifying people with disabilities as soon as possible after onset -- for example in very young children -- and getting all children with special needs into school and preparing them for the workplace and family life. Most importantly, working to reduce the social stigma that disabled people face daily, and in almost every sphere.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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