The number of Indians suffering from disabilities is likely to climb as the country grows more prosperous, according to a World Bank report commissioned by the government.
The shift comes even as disabilities caused by communicable diseases, such as polio, are on a downswing thanks to more widespread vaccines and better health care.
However, longer lifespans, ballooning rates of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, and injuries, particularly from road accidents, are likely to close the gap, found the report titled People with disabilities in India: from commitments to outcomes.
India may also have far more people suffering from both physical and mental disabilities than government estimates suggest. The report finds that approximately one in 12 households in India has a disabled member, compared with the one in 50 counted by the National Statistical Survey.
“This is an issue that will continue in India and probably increase in India as it gets richer and as it gets older,” said Philip O’Keefe, the bank’s lead social protection specialist in the South Asia human development sector.
The report also found the disabled face some of the fiercest forms of discrimination today, limiting employment and educational opportunities. Disabled children are five times more likely to be out of school than children in the general population, leading to higher rates of illiteracy and poverty. Unemployment among disabled adults grew 5% between 1991 and 2002, according to the report.
The report, commissioned by the government, characterizes India’s policy framework on disability as “progressive”, but says they are poorly implemented and virtually disappears at the panchayat level.
“The real challenge is to get the policy framework into practice, particularly in rural areas and the further down in the system you go,” said O’Keefe.
Javed Abidi, founder of the National Centre for the Employment of Disabled People and an activist who has fought many high-profile legal battles, says he questions the commitment of a government that hasn’t enacted sector-specific initiatives for the disabled, even though the national policy calls for them.
“Where is an anti-discrimination policy for employment? We don’t have it. Where is the policy for access to transportation and aviation? We don’t have it. Where is the access to education? We don’t have it,” he said. “In jobs and schools the disabled often simply aren’t there. What we do have is some of the greatest discrimination in this society.”
The report also finds strong social stigma attached to disability, with nearly half of those surveyed believing disability is a “curse of god”.