Livelihoods for disabled
Livelihood strategies for the disabled: 10 years after the Persons with Disability Act (1995) was passed in India, mainstreaming disability into critical areas such as employment, education and barrier-free access remains lacking.
The economic empowerment of people with disabilities is key to independent living and sustainable livelihoods. While in the past 12 years in India, disability has emerged as an important issue of public policy discourse, the implementation of legislation and institutional mechanisms, both government and non-government, has been poor.
To debate this crucial issue and find ways to mainstream disability into development programmes, the national-level conference on the promotion of livelihoods, organised by the PACS Programme in New Delhi between 24-26 October 2005, included a session on livelihoods promotion for the disabled, as part of its overall strategy to empower the poor.
Livelihood strategies for the disabled centre around three themes:
- Mainstreaming disability into development projects.
- Critical assessment of national and state policies.
- Access to basic services.
Mainstreaming disability into development projects
It is now an accepted position that disability has to be mainstreamed into development projects and all areas of life. Yet, 10 years after the Persons with Disability Act was passed in India, mainstreaming disability into critical areas such as employment, education and barrier-free access remains lacking.
Javed Abidi, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), estimates that 98% of disabled children in the country have no access to education. Under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), children with disabilities are being identified so that they can be given aids and assistive devices. But there is little or no focus on inclusiveness in classroom teaching.
Even integrated schools under the Integrated Education of Disabled Children lack appropriate facilities for resource teachers, resource rooms and adequate budget provisions for them. The deaf, for instance, require teachers conversant in sign language, but schools have no such provisions. Likewise, public works programmes have no provisions for the disabled. Even the latest National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme does not include the disabled in the ambit of employment.
The private sector needs to be motivated through greater advocacy and information about how disabled people can make fruitful workers. Civil society organisations working in the areas of livelihood and income-generation too need to make place for the disabled.
The charity approach still dictates policies for the disabled. Policymakers, government and non-governmental agencies, donor institutions and civil society organisations have looked at disability as a charity or a medical and rehabilitation issue, thereby relegating their responsibility to welfare agencies of the government. Though the Persons with Disabilities Act designates certain rights to the disabled, it is still seen from a welfare perspective.
Crucially, not only does disability add to the risk of poverty, but conditions of poverty add to the risk of disability. Every survey or census has proved that disability tends to be higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Disabled people have lower literacy and income levels. The Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce poverty by half. That still leaves 50% of the poor in poverty, and the disabled are likely to be among them.
Mainstreaming disability, therefore, is high on rhetoric and very short on action.
Critical assessment of national and state policies
There is no dearth of legal and constitutional provision for persons with disabilities. Equality for all is guaranteed under Articles 14, 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India, under Articles 41, 46 and 47 of the Directive Principles of State Policy, and the Constitution (93rd) Amendment Act.
The legislative framework for people with disabilities is provided by the Rehabilitation Council of India, the People with Disabilities (PWD) Act, 1995, and the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, and Multiple Disabilities.
In addition to a central coordination committee and executive committee, each state has a state coordination committee and a state executive committee which include representatives from various concerned government ministries, associations of the disabled, and NGOs.
The PWD Act provides for reservation of 3% of funds in all poverty alleviation schemes, 3% of seats in educational institutions and 3% of job vacancies for the disabled.
The main problem is that these schemes, policies and legislations are not easy to access. Information about schemes and benefits is not widely known and is difficult to avail of because of bureaucratic lethargy and intransigence.
Consequently, it is up to the stakeholders to ensure that those initiatives and schemes that do exist are taken advantage of. NGOs and others working in the development sector have to internalise provisions of the disabled in the development system.
Lack of information is a major barrier to the progress of disabled people. It is essential to disseminate information about disabilities to change negative attitudes towards the disabled in society at large. It is also necessary to ensure that disabled people, and those who work with them, know and can take advantage of reservations in jobs, education and poverty alleviation programmes.
Building a network for self-advocacy is also crucial. United voices make a greater impact in, for example, influencing legislators, protecting the rights of the disabled and sharing information. The Orissa-based group Swabhiman believes that advocacy and awareness are the strongest tools available to change the way society perceives disabled people.
Disabled people and groups themselves must be encouraged to take leadership roles in influencing public opinion and policies. All too often, decisions are taken and policies framed for the disabled without consulting the disabled themselves.
Access to basic services
For disabled people to participate in all community activities, in education and employment, physical access to built environments and public spaces, as well as transport, is crucial but virtually non-existent in any city in India.
Design features that make for easier access are proper lighting, clear signage, broad doorways, level surfaces, orientation and mobility clues, and information techniques, to name a few. Designing these features when buildings or outside spaces are in the planning stage adds nothing to the cost. Even incorporating them at a later stage adds just 1% to the total cost. "The ‘Design for All’ concept helps all people with reduced mobility, such as senior citizens, families with young children, pregnant women, and people with temporary ailments, as well as wheelchair-users, the visually and hearing impaired,” points out Anjlee Agarwal, executive director, Samarthya, National Centre for Promotion of Barrier Free Environment for People with Disabilities.
Examples of successful barrier-free environments are the Dilli Haat, which is the first barrier-free tourist spot in the country, the Delhi Metro, which has incorporated a disabled-friendly design throughout, and a plan for buses that Samarthya has submitted to transport authorities in the capital.
Non-discrimination in all spheres lies at the heart of the Constitution of India. The nodal PWD Act envisages equal opportunities and full participation to persons with disabilities. Yet disabled people continue to be excluded and marginalised. What needs to change is:
- The attitude of people at large, from excluding the handicapped in all spheres of life to including them.
- Incorporating a rights approach into policymaking, rather than a charity or welfare approach.
- Better diagnostic tools for early detection and treatment of disabilities, and greater availability of aids and technical support.
- Compulsory barrier-free access to all public buildings, spaces and transport.
- Better networking of disabled people and organisations.
- Reducing the huge rural-urban divide by mainstreaming the disabled into all development programmes.
- Stricter implementation of the provisions of the PWD Act in education and employment, and ensuring that special resources are available for the same.
Consulting disabled people when formulating policies and legislation for the disabled.