India has the good fortune of having one of the largest workforces in the world. Yet, even as the country debates on the best methods for making optimum use of their skills, a recent World Bank report has pointed out how a sizeable section — those with disabilities — barely even features in its scheme of things. This neglected group presently consists of anywhere between 40-90 million people — numbers that are unlikely to reduce anytime soon. But, as the report, People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes, points out, making a conscious effort to take them along in India’s growth story would not only alleviate their current situation, but also give an incremental boost to our economy.
India, however, cannot be accused of entirely ignoring the needs of its disabled population. Its national policy frameworks on disability is rather noteworthy. It has also recently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But, like with many other developmental issues facing the nation, all these amount to just paying just lip service to the issue, when coverage of programmes, and their overall impact, are negligible. Change for the better, though, depends largely on an attitudinal shift towards the disabled, which is seen to be negative even among members of their own families, leave alone society at large. While this is a prime factor affecting the employment prospects of those with disabilities, a related reason, especially in urban areas, is their poor educational standard. According to the World Bank report, the number of disabled children who are out of school is abysmally low, even in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where overall enrolment is high.
Improving healthcare and the education system, with specific focus on the disabled, is necessary to help them lead more independent lives, and even to keep their numbers down. Unfortunately, these are facilities that, as of now, barely extend even to the remaining population. Nonetheless, improved awareness of schemes aimed towards their uplift, and bursting the myth that their competency extends only to limited activities, could help realise their full potential and make them more active participants in India’s development process. That, truly, would be inclusive growth.