India’s disabled must have a fighting chance to achieve whatever they want
They are often called India’s invisible population. The 2011 Census put the number of differently abled in the country at 26.8 million or about 2.23% of the country’s population. Now a top government official, Navreet Kang, secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, has acknowledged that the figure is a gross underestimation. “The WHO estimates that worldwide the number of people with disabilities is 10 to 15 per cent of the total world population,” he said. “I admit that it the 2011 Census figure is probably an underestimation as the number of disability certificates issued by various states is more than the people shown in the census of that state,” said Kang. That there were several discrepancies in counting the number of disabled in the country was known. One example of this was the WHO’s estimate in 2013 that put the number of visually challenged in India at 63 million. This flies in the face of the 2011 Census estimate that puts the total number of disabled in the country at 26 million.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this under-reporting. One big reason could be the reluctance of officials conducting household surveys during the census. Activists say census officials often skip the disability question. Matters are not helped by the stigma associated with mental disorders that makes people reluctant to talk about affected family members . Now, with the passing of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, the number of recognised disabilities has gone up three-fold: from seven to 21, including, for the first time, disability caused by acid attacks. Another problem that led to underreporting was mindless aggregation. The erstwhile Act clubbed disorders such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and leprosy, under the locomotor disabilities head. Each disability needs a different approach to deal with it. That’s why the new Act emphasises the need for disaggregated data.
Finding the precise numbers of the disabled is essential in order to formulate effective policy to address their concerns. One solution for this could be the Village Disability Registers whereby the disabled come in and register themselves. Also crucial is making all 750 government websites and apps such as BHIM, meant to promote digital payments, accessible to the disabled. That will ensure that the promises made under the prime minister’s favourite Accessible India Campaign don’t remain a pipe dream. Unless the severity of the problem is known, the State can’t possibly formulate policies to overcome the challenges that the physically and mentally challenged face.