About 45 per cent of all persons with disabilities (PWD) in India are illiterate, according to the India Social Development Report (SDR) 2016, whose theme this year is ‘Disabilities Rights Perspectives’.
While 38 per cent of all male PWDs were illiterate, the illiteracy rate was 55 per cent for female PWDs. Interestingly, even in Kerala, a State long associated with near-total literacy, 33.1 per cent of the PWDs were illiterate. India’s literacy rate is 74 per cent.
The report also found for that “each category of disability, a greater proportion of women in that category are illiterate than men, with 76 per cent of women with multiple disabilities being illiterate.” It estimated that of the 75 million children of primary school age who are out of school, “one-third are children with disabilities.” It called upon the State governments to ensure availability of minimum support such as accommodation, assistive devices and transport for the disabled children to complete their schooling.
The report drew on data from a number of sources, including the census, the National Sample Survey (NSS), data-sets of the India Human Development Survey, and the National Family Health Survey, besides the new data from fresh empirical studies.
The report put the number of PWDs in India at 26.8 million, or 2.2 per cent of the population, noting that this might be an underestimate. The World Bank had put the number at 4-8 per cent of the population. Men formed 56 per cent of the PWDs, and 70 per cent of the disabled population was rural.
Movement disability accounted for the largest number of PWDs, followed by hearing disability and visual impairment. The report noted that the high incidence of polio in India may be responsible for the high proportion of movement disability.
Interestingly, while movement disability accounted for 20 per cent of all disabled children, of the 2 million children in the age-group of 0 to 6 who were disabled, it was down to 9 per cent. This difference could be due to the effectiveness of the polio immunisation program, the report said.
Though ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental retardation’ constituted the lowest proportion among the PWDs, this may be a result of under-reporting “in part due to the stigmatising nature of psycho-social disabilities, coupled with poor diagnoses of medical conditions,” the report observed.
As a proportion of the population, Sikkim, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep had the highest incidence of disability, while Tamil Nadu, Assam and Delhi had the lowest proportions of the PWDs.
According to the SDR, 64 per cent of the PWDs in India were non-workers. Of the rest, the majority were only able to find employment as casual labourer or agricultural labourer. Among the States, Tamil Nadu had the least terrible record in providing employment for the PWDs, with 59 per cent of the PWDs being non-workers.
The report also found that at the national level, only 2 per cent of the PWDs were enrolled in any vocational course, with the highest rate of enrolment being in Kerala, where 5 per cent were enrolled in vocational courses. Ironically, Kerala performed the worst in giving employment to the PWDs, with a non-worker rate of 74.52 per cent, which is poorer than the national average. On the subject of healthcare, the report concluded that the cost, lack of social services and transport were the top obstacles to the PWDs accessing health care facilities.