Talks of India’s resurgent economy with its predicted GDP growth over 7% are always linked with its demographic dividend. Census of 2011 shows that India’s demographic dividend – the working age population between 15 to 64 years of age is 63.4% of the total population. The country’s dependency ratio – the ratio of children between 0-14 years and the elderly between 65-100 years of age, has also shrunk to 0.55. With 356 million people between 10-24 years of age, India is also home to the world’s largest youth population.
Amidst these upbeat numbers, there is one statistic that has not found much traction.
Census 2011 data also reveals that of the 13.4 million people with disabilities in India in the employable age group of 15-59 years, 9.9 million were non-workers or marginal workers. Given the fact that disability is known to be under-estimated in enumeration exercises, this number could in fact be much higher. But the bottom line is that we are forcing millions of young people with disabilities to be dependent on social security or their own families and caregivers. What does this exclusion mean for an emerging economy?
Studies done by International Labour Organisation (ILO) throw some more statistics. In Bangladesh, the exclusion of people with disabilities from employment is estimated to cost the economy US$891 million every year and income losses among adult caregivers adds an additional loss of US$234 million/year. In Morocco, income lost due to exclusion of people with disabilities from employment was estimated to result in national level losses of 9.2 billion dirhams (approximately US$1.1 billion).
Globally, the World Bank considers that leaving people with disability outside the economy, translates into a foregone GDP of about 5% to 7%.
It is important to keep this huge cost of social exclusion in mind when we talk of flagship programmes like Skill India that targets to skill 40.02 crore people by 2022. Inclusion of people with disabilities in skill development has to be on twin track – have specific initiatives targeting people with disabilities exclusively; while ensuring that mainstream skill development programmes are also inclusive and non-discriminatory.
The National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities launched in 2015 has set a target of skilling 5 lakh persons with disabilities by 2018. The objective is to create a momentum that will enable the Government to skill 5 lakh persons with disabilities every year eventually leading to 2.5 million persons with disabilities being skilled by 2022. This is an ambitious target, the success of which depends on several other factors.
Skilling people with disabilities does not exist outside of the larger eco-system of initiatives aimed at tapping into India’s demographic dividend. Programmes like Make in India, Start Up India, Atal Innovation Mission, among others are intended to help propel India’s growth story leveraging its demographic dividend. Are persons with disabilities part of this larger discourse? If not, then can we even expect persons with disabilities to have the enabling environment to be active contributors to nation building?
When we talk of skilling people with disabilities, we are not merely taking in binaries of ‘no employable skills’ and ‘with employable skills’. It is much more multi-dimensional than that. Along with imbibing employable skills, persons with disabilities also need enabling mechanism like assistive technology, accessible environments, financial inclusion, and most importantly willing employers. Employment rate of people with disabilities is abysmal in India – but that’s a story for another time. As a nation, we do have to ask what is it that we want for millions of people with disabilities – a lifetime of dependency or for them to be part of the mainstream? The answer to that is worth 5-7% of our annual GDP!
JAVED ABIDI IS THE GLOBAL CHAIR, DISABLED PEOPLE’S INTERNATIONAL AND A LEADING GLOBAL LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT