Today's Editorial

29 April 2017

Disabled still have many miles to go



Source: By Debomita Chakraborty: The Statesman



According to the World Bank, about 15 per cent of the world's population which amounts to one billion people suffers from some form of disability. Developing countries or low and middle income countries (LMIC) have higher occurrence of disability. Usually developing countries fail to provide proper infrastructure to people living with disabilities in the form of accessibility to public places, public transport, work place, educational institutions and information and communication technology.


According to Census 2011, about 26.8 million people in India are living with disabilities and this, according to some prominent disability rights activists, is a huge underestimation. India also fails to address the issue of disability inclusive space due to lack of efficient and effective policies in place.


India is one of the 173 countries which ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In this convention, people with disabilities were for the first time, recognised as capable beings with “rights”, who can claim their own rights and take appropriate decisions for themselves based on “free and informed consent”. Since ratifying CRPD in October 2007, India is obliged to enforce it in its national laws and policies. We present some points related to access to employment and education for people suffering with disabilities, based on the data from Census 2011 and the steps taken by the government so far.


In the HRD Ministry's All India Survey of Higher Education (2014-15), it was found that 64,289 persons with disability (PWD) are enrolled for higher education. Even though the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act promises inclusive education, it fails to provide children with disabilities access to education majorly due to absence of infrastructure of schools and universities for providing better access to people with disabilities, lack of strong interest from the government and administration and due to closed mind-set.


The Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 recognised the need for sign language and Braille in schools and universities but in order to excel and make education inclusive for PWD students, it is important to also compulsorily introduce other modern technologies for learning in the school. More resources are required for spreading awareness about new provisions under this Act, especially the clause which says that books, learning materials and assistive devices will be provided to students who are dealing with benchmark disabilities, free of cost up to the age of 18 years. In the same Act, reservation for PWD students in higher educational institutions was raised from 3 to 5 per cent. Yet in reality, in spite of a number of PILs, very few institutions have been able to make their campus inclusive for the PWDs.


In the age group of 5-19 years, there are 6.5 million children with different types of disabilities. Fifty-four per cent children with multiple disabilities have never attended educational institutions. 797,000 children with different types of disabilities attended educational institutions but dropped off eventually while 1.75 million differently abled children never attended schools. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of children (1.2 million) in the age range of 5- 19 years who have some form of disability. Of these, 40 per cent are not attending any educational institution. Maharashtra has 684,000 disabled children, the second highest number in the country, and 30 per cent are not attending schools. Daman and Diu has less than 500 disabled children in the age range of 5-19 years but 55 per cent do not attend school. Apart from Goa and Kerala, all states and UTs have more than 30 per cent disabled children who are not attending any educational institutions.


According to Census 2011, there are 15 million people with disabilities who are in the working age group of 15-59 years. Out of this 58 per cent are male and 42 per cent female. There are 20 states/UTs where more than half the disabled population of working age is unemployed. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of people with disablities in the age group of 15-59 years, at 2.3 million and 52 per cent of these people are unemployed. In rural areas, out of all the disabled men who are employed, 74 per cent are main employees as opposed to 54 per cent of disabled women. In urban areas, 87 per cent of employed disabled men are main employees while 72 per cent of disabled women are employed as main workers. Disabled women are employed more than men for marginal jobs that last for a duration of 3-6 months or less than 3 months, in both rural and urban areas.


The state-wise distribution of employed disabled men and women shows that in all the states and UTs in India, the percentage of employed women with disablities is less than that of men with disabilities. Delhi has the highest disparity with the percentage of employed disabled men being higher than that of women by 43 per cent. Nagaland is the only state to have a difference of less than 10 per cent between the percentage of employed men and that of employed women with disabilities.


Previously only seven types of disabilities were recognised by institutions but under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act21 different kinds of disabilities are recognised. This would instantly increase the number of people to be considered as living with disability by the government. In the past decade, some well intended legislations and judgements came out to improve the situation for PWDs. Firstly, under the Rights of Persons with disability Act, government job reservation for people with disabilities was increased from 3 to 4 percent and in another instance last year, the Supreme Court of India, in one of its progressive judgements, declared that the disability quota can be used for promotions in government jobs.

Yet we are not very optimistic about the implementation due to the deep-seated apathetic approach towards bringing in change within the system for PWDs. According to reports from Economic Times Intelligence Group (ETIG) in 2015, most of the public sector entities failed to meet the 3 per cent required work force reservation for PWDs and very few private sector entities in their survey were eager to include PWDs in their workforce. The only way to reverse the situation, along with progressive judgements, is vigilant citizen's groups and civil societies. Proper implementation, usage of funds and filling up of quotas reserved for the PWDs can be possible only if proper awareness is raised by the groups and coalition working for disability rights.