The Reality of Disability in India by Susannah Morcowitz

‘There are 70 million people in India with a disability, 95% of those have no access to education’.

That is the equivalent of the whole of the UK not having access to education!

In a recent article, entitled, ‘No country for disabled people’ Rema Nagarajan(Times of India, February 15th 2011) paints a very bleak picture for the prospects of people with disability in India. Most schools in India, including special educational needs schools and India’s top universities do not have any adapted access for persons with disability. A survey carried out on the employment of people with disability again shows some shocking figures; only 0. 54 per cent in public sector companies, 0. 28 per cent in the private sector and 0.05 per cent in multinationals. This is well well below the 3% quota that was established by Indira Gandhi 33 years ago!

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The links between poverty and disability are well established. People who are living in poverty are more likely to develop disabilities and those with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty. Without access to education or job opportunities people with disabilities must rely on family members or communities to provide for them. In an environment where resources may already be stretched or family members may be daily wage workers, supporting a person with disabilities may become difficult for already poor families.

The Association of People with Disabilities Vision is to ‘create equal opportunities at all levels for persons with disability to become contributing members of society’. APD recognizes the potential behind all persons with disability to become equal members of society who are very capable of becoming economically independent.

I have now been volunteering with the Association of People with Disabilities (APD) for nearly two and half months, and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to be working with the Resource Support to Organisations Department. They support rural south Indian NGOs by providing technical support in the form of Capacity Building, developing the administration and management as well as programme development for smaller less developed NGOs. I have had the opportunity to go on a number of field visits to see the vital work that these NGOs have been doing as well as experience firsthand some of the problems that they face. Elephant menace, was a particularly amusing, but also very serious problem affecting the NGOs work.

Overall I am really enjoying the work that I am doing here and the freedom that I have been given to develop resources for the RSO team. However, at times it has been extremely frustrating!! Doing one task three times because I couldn’t seem to understand what it was that the team wanted was at times infuriating, and I began to wonder whether I knew what I was doing. On reflection I began to realise that perhaps the team did not know what it was that they wanted themselves, and now I feel slightly more confident in my abilities! The work efforts of the staff here and in India are staggering, they work a 6 day week, for comparatively low wages and days of per year number about 10! Holidays are unheard of! So next time I’m in the UK working I’ll think twice about complaining of long working hours!

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So far I am really enjoying the opportunity to volunteer in India; I have learnt a great deal, met some wonderfully inspiring people and have escaped the cold English winter!