– By Dr. Soumitro Chakraborty. He is the Founder, Director & CEO of Fiinovation and Chairman of Centre for CSR and Sustainability Excellence.
Globally, there is no universally accepted, singular definition of disability. As per India’s latest
census, an estimated 2.21 percent of India’s population suffers from disability. A person can
face disability – mentally and physically – at any point in their life either from birth or due to
medical complications or accidents. Also, as asserted by Planning Commission and World
Bank, India has a population of 5 percent or more who are suffering from disability. Though the
estimates might differ from sources to sources, what cannot be sidelined is the fact that owing to
India’s large population, even the lowest estimate of disabled population makes it equal to the
combined population of several countries of Europe.
Despite constituting a significant percentage, persons with disabilities (PwDs) in India have
limited opportunities for participation in social and economic process, including scope for decent
employment, to lead a dignified and independent life. As per the census 2011, 63.66 percent of
the disabled population is not working compared to 60.21 percent of the able-bodied. The
average employment rate of people with disabilities is 0.28 percent in the private sector and
0.54 percent in the public sector. Additionally, 87% of persons with disabilities in India worked in
the informal sector. According to International Labour Organization (ILO)’s 2011 report 73.6% of
the disabled in India are still outside the labor force. Of these, those with the mental disability,
disabled women and those in rural areas are the worst neglected.
While some employers have recognized the potential that PwDs can bring along, most of them
are still sceptical about hiring them and it prevents them from tapping into the vast pool of
resources. One of the main hurdles in promoting equal employment opportunities for people
with disabilities is the lack of sensitivity and awareness. Experts argue that apart from creating
awareness, there are other challenges that hinder the creation of job opportunities for PwDs.
One Education Policy For All is a Misfit
According to Census 2011, 45% of India’s disabled population is illiterate compared to 26% of
all Indians. Out of the PwDs who are educated, only 59% complete Class X.
Source: Census 2011
Irrespective of the fact that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan promotes free and compulsory education for
all children between the ages of 6 and 14, children with special needs are largest in number to
drop out from schools. Around 60,000 children with special needs dropout of school due to lack
of conducive environment and lack of infrastructure and specially trained teachers.
II-Equipped Public Infrastructure Facilities
The inaccessibility to infrastructure, public transportation, tools and equipment to perform
regular tasks restricts PwDs from taking up jobs. Famous British physicist Stephen Hawking
once said, “People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers they face:
attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach. But
most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people
with so much to contribute to the world.”
When compared with situation in 2011, India has done commendable job in improving the
accessibility for PwDs. But there is huge amount of work which is still left. Unlike the metro rails
which are built in accordance to offering accessibility to the disabled people, the passenger
trains need to be upgraded and made disabled friendly. Two years after the launch of
Accessible India campaign, only 3% of buildings have become accessible. Only 52 buildings
from the audited 1,662 public buildings across 50 states have been retrofitted and made
Al-Amin Yusuph, advisor for communication and information, UNESCO India, while talking
about the agenda of International Day of Disabled Persons this year, rightly pointed out that it is
not a matter of charity but human rights.
An inclusive society is the one that doesn’t let differences become barriers and accepts them as
part of human diversity. It creates an environment in which such differences do not hamper an
individual’s development. Every person with disability has an absolute right to such an
environment and be recognized as part of a diverse society. Unfortunately, India still has miles
to go before it could truly be called an inclusive society.
Data and facts definitely prove that there is a humongous talent pool that lies untapped majorly
because of the societal attitude and the lack of bureaucracy to address it. The next question that
erupts is, Is there something that we as corporates could do to emancipate the PwDs from
With the passage of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016, there is an increased
opportunity of corporate support and engagement with differently-abled. The time is just right for
the creation of an inclusive environment. Although, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
agenda remains a major contributing factor for employing PwDs by private and multinational
companies, more and more companies are realizing the benefits and advantages accrued with
employing them. IT majors such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Wipro are the biggest
private sector recruiters of specially-abled persons. Few other companies that have an
exemplary inclusiveness policy are – Titan Industries, 4 percent of their employees are PwDs.
They organized counselling sessions with families to ensure smooth transition into the factory.
Shakti Masala, iMerit, Ruralshores and retail giant like Flipkart are actively hiring differently-
Inclusion of differently-abled people in the labour market and affirmative actions to empower
them is an ongoing quest. It’s not necessary that only countries with advanced economies can
achieve it. For instance, Malawi, a small town in Africa, has been appreciated globally for
promoting the employability of differently abled people through effective legislation and
Some of the best affirmative actions around the world that have resulted in tangible
outcomes with respect to enhanced employment rates of PwDs are –
Affirmative Legislative Practises – Governments of many countries have formulated policies
and plans for affirmative action on inclusion of PwDs in the labour market. For instance, the
Council of the European Union in the year 2000 asked its members to draft policies for the
employment of PwDs by 2006. As a result, Portugal, Brazil and Israel promoted affirmative
actions through skill development plans. Anti-discriminatory laws were introduced that rendered
discrimination on the basis of disability as illegal.
Germany and Japan have imposed hiring quotas for inclusion of PwDs in public and private
sector enterprises. Enterprises that fail to meet the quota, are expected to pay a fine.
Offering Financial Assistance – In Australia, the Department of Employment and Workplace
Relations provides funding for employment-related accommodations or workplace modifications
to make the entry of people with disabilities into the economy easier.
Social assistance programs adopted by Germany, Netherlands and Norway help the PwDs
ease into employment and act as a safety net, lest they do not succeed. Funding or micro
financing for self-employment is another way to help those with disabilities to become financially
independent. For instance, National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation, in India
promotes economic and developmental activities of PwDs by providing them loans for self-
employment and other economic ventures.
Training – The idea of supporting employment by first hiring, and training, is rewriting the belief that
disabled people cannot perform tasks required for job. This person-centred model has thrown open
the doors for the PwDs across the world. Vocational trainings can restore the capabilities of the
PwDs. A classic example would be The Leprosy Mission in India, which teaches tailoring, welding,
silk production, offset printing and computing, among others.
There is a huge call for change in the mindset of India Inc. as the challenges faced by a person
with disability does not stem from their disability but actually arises from the negative
perception. Many organizations and NGOs are working towards creating awareness and
changing the attitude towards PwDs but it needs to be backed with affirmative actions which are
further backed by legislative policies that strengthen PwDs place in the society.
To further strengthen their adherence to Affirmative Action, companies need to have a
comprehensive written HR policy with explicit mention of employment of PwDs along with due
emphasis on a strict anti-discrimination policy at the workplace. It is also necessary to create a
barrier-free work environment for PwDs, like the accessible workplaces created by Mphasis Ltd.
The adoption and practice of Affirmative Action by India Inc. in tune with their CSR policies can
play a pivotal role in securing the rights of persons with disability for skill training and
employment and thus promote inclusive development.