According to the latest Census compiled in 2011, there are about 26.8 million persons with disabilities (PwDs) in India, which is approximately 2.4% of the population. Of these disabled, about 50% are visually impaired, 13% are speech/hearing impaired, 27.9% are mobility or orthopaedic impaired and 10.3% have mental illnesses. It is to be noted that only 3% of PwDs are gainfully employed in India, compared to between 30-50% in the developed world. And about 60% of PwDs are in the employable age group of 15-59 years. This translates to a total of 13.4 million PwDs (8.8 million in rural India and 4.6 million in urban India). Of these, 7.8 million are males and 5.6 million are females.
Of the total population of PwDs, 55% are literate and can be skilled and tapped – this translates to a number of 8.76 million.
During the International Day of People with Disability last year—the day is observed on December 3 each year—our Prime Minister made a call to the country to use the word “Divyang” instead of “Viklang” for the differently abled. My personal assessment is that though this is noble, but it may go in the same direction of what Mahatma Gandhi proposed: “Harijan” versus the names that our brethren were called, without much change on the ground.
Over the past few months there have been several new initiatives which have been undertaken by the government. Of these the big three happening simultaneously are ‘Digital India’, ‘Make in India’ and the one which is directly related to PwDs: ‘Accessible India’ or ‘Sugamya Bharat’.
A differently-abled person feels excluded when she is not able to do the tasks of an abled person. Therefore ‘Accessible India’, over a period of a few years, will help that PwDs have access to public offices, workplaces and the like. The added advantage is also for our elderly population, who with age may become disabled in some faculties.
With most of the trainings, university courses being made available online, and with broadband connectivity expanding to the remotest villages, ‘Digital India’ is a great opportunity for PwDs to get the best of education without travelling long distances. There is also a need to rethink some of the skilling initiatives of the government for PwDs. If the courses can be made available online, it will be a big boon for PwDs. Some may think this as a pipe-dream but changes in telecom infrastructure are happening faster than we realise. After they get trained, the same infrastructure then will help PwDs perform jobs from the comfort of their homes. In fact, this could be an ideal situation which can help make PwDs employable and also help them being as productive as anybody.
Similarly, ‘Make in India’ will open up employment opportunities for all and may help PwDs find jobs near their homes.
Our traditional form of employment for PwDs used to envisage a scenario where PwDs created things in individual capacity, without much involvement from co-workers. We have to go far beyond that thought and have to ensure that PwDs are integrated in our work culture and work environment as we move from traditional sectors to areas like e-commerce, BPO, hospitality, retail and manufacturing.
With ‘Accessible India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’, all that is required now is a push by corporate India to include PwDs in their hiring plans going forward.