People with disabilities form the largest minority globally. Despite the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, disabled people continue to experience several barriers to financial stability. As the inflation rates soar, the cost of living is now at an unprecedented peak and is only set to increase. When in such cases unemployment rises, markets crash and costs shoot up – people with disabilities find themselves at a double disadvantage. Firstly, owing to discrimination based on their disability, they already struggle to find means to earn their livelihood. This is further compounded when the falling economy impacts their prospects to gain employment, even more adversely.
India is home to 26.8 million people with disabilities, as per the Census of 2011. About 69% of youth with disabilities in India live in the villages. Lack of education translates to a lack of jobs and poverty- poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability because of a lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation, as well as safe living and working conditions. Due to malnutrition, poor accessibility and availability of health services and sanitation, and unsafe living and working conditions, poverty may cause disability.
Living with a disability, usually, comes at an added cost. While the chances of disabled people earning as much as non-disabled people are slim, the probability of them spending more than an average non-disabled counterpart is very high. This is because people with disabilities have additional support needs like personal assistance, dietary requirements, medical care, assistive devices, etc. Without these facilities and resources, persons with disabilities will not be able to meaningfully participate in society. To ensure their participation in socio-political, economic and all other spheres of life, people with disabilities or their caregivers need to invest in such resources to ensure that they are able to make the most of the opportunities offered. It is important to remember that people with disabilities are not a homogenous group with the same needs. Depending on their type of disability and degree of disability, their needs for assistance also vary. This comes at an added cost. To enjoy the same standard of living as a non-disabled individual, disabled people would require a higher income that covers their additional needs.
As per the first-ever Global Report on Assistive Technology (GreAT) launched by WHO and UNICEF, one in three people globally need at least one assistive product. While the accessibility to these devices varies greatly depending on multiple socio-economic factors, the report also finds that accessibility increased in countries with a higher Human Development Index (HDI). This again points to the plight of the poor and marginalized in a country like India where the social stigma around disability dictates the attitudes and treatment toward a person with a disability. "People reported the most common barriers to access assistive products as being high costs, low availability and lack of support", quotes the report.This vicious circle can only be broken by access to education, strategic skill development and the provision of employment for persons with disabilities.
When people with disabilities are included in policy planning and design, they would be better able to share their experiences on challenges faced and the assistance they seek from the civil society, businesses and the government. A disability-inclusive policy lens to understand the emerging needs of the community and cater to them is much and critically needed. Measures to support the economic security of those living with disabilities need to be set up to safeguard their constitutional rights as citizens. Across economic, social and political spheres, there is always an additional cost of living with disabilities.
The writer is the Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).