Dec 12, 2008
Lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and tardy approach towards an inclusive education system forces India’s disabled children stay out of school. A World Bank study points out that they are more vulnerable than those hailing from backward castes due to negative mindsets.
Only one percent of funds under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan are spent on inclusive education; employment of people with disability fell from 43% in 1991 to 38% in 2002 despite strong economic growth; and negative attitudes towards the disabled persist.
These are some of the findings of a new World Bank report on disability in India. For India’s 40-80 million persons with disability, a lot needs to be done just to get the basics right.
Low literacy, few jobs and widespread social stigma are making disabled people among the most excluded in India, according to a World Bank report: People with Disability in India: From Commitments to Outcomes, released in New Delhi on December 3, 2008, International Day of the Disabled.
At least one in 12 households includes a member with disability, according to the report. Children with disability are five times more likely to be out of school than scheduled caste or scheduled tribe (SC/ST) children, and if they stay in school they rarely progress beyond the primary level, leading ultimately to lower employment and incomes.
Need for a responsive system
While the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has made a concerted effort to promote the inclusion of children with special needs, the system faces challenges in identifying these children and responding to their needs.
Only around one percent of funds under the SSA are spent on inclusive education. And, the budget for educating children with mild to moderate disability in regular school settings has not increased commensurately since the focus on inclusive education began in the 1970s.
The report finds that coordination between the ministries of human resource development and social justice and empowerment, the Rehabilitation Council of India and the general teacher training system needs to be improved. Also, state-wise strategies on education for children with special needs have to be devised.
Negative attitudes towards the disabled, even by their own families, deter disabled people from taking active part in the family, community or workforce. Those suffering from mental illness or mental retardation face the worst stigma and are subject to severe social exclusion, the report notes.
Persons with disability are considered ineligible to marry those without disabilities unless “adjusted” by a high dowry. Disabled girls are usually married to older men, leading to a higher incidence of widowhood. The report recommends showcasing success stories of people with disabilities to challenge deep-rooted negative perceptions.
The report points out that a large number of disabilities in India are preventable, including those arising from medical issues during birth, maternal conditions, malnutrition, as well as accidents and injury. However, the health sector is yet to react more proactively to disability, especially in rural areas.
Poor access to services
There are stark regional disparities. In general, states that lag behind in health services are also slow in caring for the disabled. Those disabled from birth, women, and ST/SC/OBCs are less likely to seek healthcare. Despite years of public intervention, only a few disabled people have access to aids and appliances.
Physical accessibility in buildings, transportation and services remain unavailable because even though guidelines exist for disabled-friendly buildings, they are rarely followed. The report recommends that the guidelines be adopted into building by-laws to make them legally binding.
Employment of people with disability fell from 43% in 1991 to 38% in 2002, despite the country’s economic growth. In the public sector, despite three percent reservation since 2003, only 10% of posts have been identified as “suitable”. The quota policy also covers just three types of disability - locomotor, hearing and visual.
The situation is far worse in the private sector, says the report. In the late-1990s, employment of people with disability at large private firms was only 0.3% of the workforce.
Among multinational companies, it was a mere 0.05%. Financial assistance too has hardly reached those in need. The National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation disbursed assistance to less than 20,000 disabled persons between 1997 and 2002.
The report warns that the number of disabled people in India is expected to rise sharply as age-related disabilities grow and traffic accidents increase. This is borne out by the fact that, internationally, the highest reported disability rates are in the OECD countries.