A Helen Keller or a Stephen Hawking’s story questions the traditional notion that People with Disability (PwD) are an economically unproductive liability. Still world over and especially in India, the issue of socio-economic rehabilitation of people with disability has been looked at from a very negative point of view for far too long.
A Flawed Approach
While PwDs constitute a huge population, they are rarely seen as productive human capital of the state. The direct correlation between disability and poverty is largely ignored by states.This attitude and outlook has caused the PwDs immense suffering and the society huge loss on account of under utilization of productive human capital available in the PwDs.
The World Bank considers that leaving people with disabilities outside the economy translates into a foregone GDP of about 5-7 percent.
This has happened despite historical and contemporary examples of people with disability doing great jobs.
However most of the success stories of PwDs are personal achievement against all odds.
When the question comes to economic rehabilitation of PwDs both at an institutional as well as a societal level, it has been found mired with lackadaisical endeavors and a flawed approach.
Disability Is Not The Problem. Economic Exclusion Of The PwDs Is The Problem
As per WHO (World Health Organisation) 15% of the global population, or an estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities, and 80% of this PwD (Persons with Disabilities) population resides in developing nations. It is also estimated that 6% of India’s population (roughly 72 million) suffers from some form of disability or the other, and notably only around 3-4 million of these are educated.
Lack of access to education, appropriate vocational training, economic opportunities, and conducive working and living conditions pushes the PwDs in a vicious cycle of poverty. Poverty, to a great extent is both the cause and the consequence of disability. Lack of access to quality nutrition and healthcare often leads to disability. On the other hand disability prevents people from accessing quality education, health services, economic opportunities and pushes them deeper into poverty. The situation thus comes a full circle and traps the PwDs in it perennially.
There are provisions such as three percent reservation in government Jobs, the Apprenticeship Training Scheme, educational scholarships, tax rebates; there are government bodies such as Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) and National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC), the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India to serve the PwDs with many benefits under several schemes.
The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 2006 recognizes PwDs as a valuable human resource for the country and stands for their equal rights in the society.
However all these policies and schemes are not effective, substantial and pervasive enough at the ground level.
The average employment rate of PwDs is only 0.28% in the private sector and 0.54% in the public sector. A recent WHO report shows that 87% of PwDs in India work in the informal sector. But the Institutional and legislative reforms many a times do not reach informal sector.
The informal sector does not come under the purview of any institutional and legislative reforms. Hence PwDs working in this sector often remain absent from the ‘labor market data’ and miss the benefits.
Perhaps the reason behind this failure hides in attitudinal disability of the governing bodies and the society at large translated into stigma, apathy, lack of political will and sincerity to solve the problems of PwDs.
Scott Hamilton rightly puts it, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”. Bad attitude is plaguing the system to work for PwDs favorably.
The institutional attempts to facilitate the PwDs have been more towards rehabilitation and custodial care which often result in their economic exclusion.
However, economic exclusion has always proved to be a more expensive liability than the costs of economic engagement of PwDs. Keeping them economically unproductive and making them live on charity or government doles has only caused more harm than good to both the PwDs and the nation.
What Social Entrepreneurs Can Do For Economic Inclusion Of The PwDs
Social Entrepreneurs (SEs) need to consider ideas for sustainable and profitable ventures benefiting the PwDs. This can help reduce their economic exclusion.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has identified 20 high growth sectors ideal for PwDs – which are auto, BFSI, building and construction, chemicals and pharma, education, electronic hardware, food processing, furniture, gem and jewellery, ITeS and BPO, etc.
These are currently the major growth sectors contributing to the GDP. Governments and the Social Entrepreneurs should mobilise economic inclusion of the PwDs in these areas by skilling them relevantly.
However, Social Entrepreneurs (SEs) are expected to come up with more innovative ideas to train and employ PwDs in profitable ventures. The government should support and facilitate them with incentives and progressive business policies. Such ventures may be integrated with government schemes such as Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana (SJSRY), Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) or Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY).
Ventures in waste management such as GreenCollect, in sanitation such as Arunachalam Muruganantham’s Jayaashree Industries manufacturing easy to use, low-cost sanitary napkin making machines, in renewable energy such as Bio Bean, solarkiosk. or the Green Leaf Energy Private Limited can very well engage PwDs. Besides that skill building in computer, agricultural and cottage industry, childcare, senior citizen care, education, health services, water preservation also can make the PwDs economically self-reliant.
Some Inspiring Examples Of SEs With PwDs
There are some businesses employing differently-abled people.
In this restaurant the entire 27 member service team is hearing and speech disabled. The co-owner Prashant Issar got the idea when he visited and dined at a similar concept restaurant called Signs at Toronto, Canada which is also wait-staffed by hearing impaired servers. Prashant and the other co-owner Anuj Shah firmly believe “philanthropic or social initiatives can only be sustained through a successful business venture” and found this idea very suitable to execute that belief. Anuj Shah rightly said that they decided to employ the deaf and mute boys and girls not for their disability, but on the contrary for their ability – their focus, sincerity and intuitive understanding of customers need, essential for hospitality business.
The spirited co-owners are harnessing themselves to expand the Mirchi and Mime chain in other big Indian cities and cities abroad, besides launching 3 more restaurants in Mumbai.
The social venture has been felicitated by All India Gathering for Speech and Hearing Impaired, organised by Helen Keller and Anam Prem. It was also nominated for Equal Opportunity Awards by the Nipman Foundation.
This Hellen Keller award-winning and National Awardee (For Empowerment of People With Disability) courier service company was founded by Dhruv Lakra, an MBA in Social Entrepreneurship from Oxford. A chance experience of interacting with a deaf and mute boy travelling in a bus awakened him to the difficulties and hardships of deaf and mute people. He realized that the society or the government hardly offer them any help as “no one has the patience or the foresight to learn deaf language and culture.” Dhruv observed that the deaf were extremely good at maps reading, remembering roads and buildings because they were so visually inclined which is very useful in a courier service.
We are not a charity but a social business, where the social element is embedded in the commercial operations. We merely help them (the deaf and mute people) help themselves.
Dhruv lakra rightly says, “We have planted the seed that people with disabilities can be incorporated in to the supply-chain model.”
Today Mirakle Courier Company operates from two branches in Mumbai supported by 70 deaf and mute staff, handling 65000 shipment per month to local, domestic and international destinations. The company will soon start operations in other metro cities.
Founded by Joanita Figueiredo, a trained senior nurse, yoga trainer and reflexologist, this Bandra based humble foot massage spa in Mumbai is completely staffed by blind masseurs. Joanita, realised their physical strength and strong sense of touch and sincerity while training them reflexology foot massage at school for blinds by National Association for the Blind, India (NABIndia). She also saw that there were no takers of these professionally trained blind masseurs in Mumbai’s salons for the rich and elite. So far 40 visually impaired staff have served at Metta Foot Spa.
Dr Jayanthi Narayan, a veteran special educator also corroborates the need to see the strength of a differently able person.
“Vocational training and employment demand preparing the community to accept those with disabilities by looking at their strengths rather than their disability. For example, I had a student who was a young man with a moderate level of mental retardation. He did a perfect job of taking care of his father’s cattle, cleaning the shed, grazing the cattle, delivering milk every day to selected houses, and generally looking after the cattle. His father told me one day, “With my son looking after the cows and buffalo I now have double the cattle.” He further added, “Tasks such as cleaning the shed and washing the cows, which are boring to me, my son enjoys doing and he does better than myself.”
Every human being is endowed with some strength and is capable of delivering or performing some productive service. If a person is only visually impaired, that does not make him disabled in other physical attributes such as speech, hearing, touch or smell. Similarly a hearing and speech impaired person might have very good vision and observation. Society needs to shed its disability to see the ability of the differently-abled persons and empower them accordingly.
Secondly, economic inclusion of the PwDs is not only necessary for their self-reliance and their productive contribution to the GDP. It is imperative for their self-esteem, sense of purpose and fulfillment in life. It is their birth right and it is society’s duty to protect and provide their right.
More social entrepreneurs like Prashant Issar, Anuj Shah, Dhruv Lakda and Joanita Figueiredo need to come forward and start profitable ventures with the differently able.
Feature image – Mirchi & Mime
Hellen Keller- https://sites.google.com/a/polkschools.org/helen-keller/
John Milton – Google
Arunima Sinha – The Better India
Sudha Chandran – Flickr
Sadhna Dand – Better India
Dr Advani – Times of India
Mirchi & Mime – http://mirchiandmime.com
Dr Jayanthi Narayan –