Disability and the recession


 Non-written communication to work longer hours is common place. Most people are glad they can retain their job. But the axe is not, say most companies, a matter of choice. Some people must go so that the majority can stay. During this time of deep economic uncertainty one wonders about the situation of People with disabilities (PwDs).

India has nearly 70 million PwDs. Those lucky to be employed predominantly find themselves in IT companies, telemarketing and BPOs. A survey of top 100 corporate houses in India, in 1999, shows a mere 0.4 per cent of their workforce was PwDs. Nothing has dramatically changed in the last 10 years. As PwDs struggle to get employment in the best of times, now their chances are as good as zero.
Most companies are unwilling or unable to make their premises ‘accessible,’ which also acts as a hurdle, and so one can conclude with worrying certainty that PwDs are twice as badly hit by the recession as non-disabled people.

If disability groups were demanding tax rebates as incentives for companies hiring PwDs earlier, now the situation is far more urgent. More so as most PwDs require to earn approximately twice as much as their non-disabled counterparts to enjoy the same standard of living.

Seeking government attention

Most disability groups believe that, with more pressing needs, they have little chance of getting government attention. They have fewer expectations as none of the political parties even made a mention of these 70 million PwDs in their election manifesto. All PwDs can expect are a few more social welfare schemes, but with a limited budget and a large number of PwDs clamouring for them, chances are slim that there will be a dramatic change.

Whether we like it or not, the 70 million PwDs are too big a population to ignore and brush aside, whether the new government at the Centre likes it or not, it will have to do something that will improve the economic lives of PwDs and pull them back from the ‘vulnerable’ list.

As I look around, I see the recession has turned into a god sent opportunity for young enterprising Indians. I am seeing more people in their 30s set up businesses of their own than ever before and perhaps PwDs need to be heading in the same direction.
With a little bit of financial assistance from the government and some training on business, they are just as capable of success as any other businessman and we hope that’s what they will get by way of government assistance.

(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group)

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