Disability and poverty are closely linked together. Disability results in poverty and poverty worsens disability. Huge numbers of people are disabled in South Asia, and don’t have access to social support systems, education, health services and employment. The prevalence of disability is increasing in many areas, as a result of HIV / AIDS, malnutrition, disasters and conflicts.
As a group, disabled people do not yet have sufficient economic, political or media power to bring about necessary changes. In addition to service delivery, a vital role of the voluntary sector is advocacy and campaigning around human rights issues which affect disabled people.
It is difficult to find reliable data about the incidence of disability in South Asia. The National Survey Organisation (NSSO) carried out a survey in 1991 which estimated that 1.9% of India’s population (16.1 million people) had physical or sensory disabilities. This included visual, speech, hearing and locomotor disabilities. Out of those identified as disabled, as many as 11.4 million were not in the labour force.
Another survey conducted by the NSSO in 1991 suggested that 3 per cent of India's children had delayed development and most of them were likely to be mentally retarded.
However, estimations vary considerably, depending on the source, the methodology, and the extent of use of medical instruments in measuring the degree of disability. Many estimations for the number of disabled people living in India range between 50 and 90 million.
The Persons with Disability Act in India
India’s parliament passed the Persons with Disabilities Act in 1995. It was a landmark act which was designed to ensure disabled people are able to be an integral part of mainstream life in India. It is a combination of service-oriented and rights-based legislation. The scheme of the Act is based on the following approaches:
- Prohibition of discrimination on the ground of disability in different spheres of life.
- Positive discrimination of people with disabilities.
- The inclusion of disabled people in mainstream programmes.
- Ensuring people have access to facilities and services necessary for day-to-day living.
Article 41 of the Constitution prescribes that “the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of disablement”.
Types of Disability
Within the act, the definition of disability is divided into seven groups: blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness.
Recently the Supreme Audit Institution of India – Comptroller and Auditors General - carried out an audit review in order to ‘examine the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of various programmes for empowerment of the disabled with reference to the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995’.
The CAG concluded that:
The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 is being poorly implemented although eight years have elapsed after its enactment.
Adequate measures, as envisaged under the Act, had not been taken for prevention of disabilities through early detection, awareness campaigns and training of staff of Primary Health Centres.
The development of educational infrastructure for the disabled, research for new assistive devices and specialised training of teachers remained weak areas.
The pace of identification of posts in State Government establishment, which could be reserved for Persons with Disability (PWD), was slow.
Special Employment Exchanges could provide placement to only one per cent PWD registered in the live register each year between 1998 and 2000.
The Government failed to ensure three per cent reservation of PWD in poverty alleviation schemes, thus depriving them of the opportunity of economic rehabilitation.
The Disability Act 1995 mandates incentives to public and private sector employers who ensure that at least 5% of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities.
The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) carried out a study examining employment practices in the Indian corporate sector in 1999. 70 of India’s ‘Super 100’ companies completed a questionnaire as part of the research.
The results showed that on average just 0.4% of the workforce in the respondent companies were disabled. 20 of the companies didn’t employ any disabled people at all.
Approach to disability issues
Many people have criticized policymakers for viewing disability as simply a charity and welfare issue. Javed Abidi, head of the NCPEDP, argues ‘it is and it should rightly be a development issue, a progress issue and to my mind, an economic issue. Can any country afford to have 6% of its population live off charity? No country or society can ever progress or develop leaving 6% of its population behind. In terms of human resources, we are talking about a potential workforce of 60 million people. I am no economist but if we can facilitate even some portion of this population into becoming working and productive members of our society, then don't we have more tax-payers?’
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