The common perception that was held by policy-makers and the public at large was that people with disabilities and disability issues are to be viewed in terms of charity and welfare. Dole in terms of aids and pensions are important, but not empowering.
Significant milestones achieved by India such as the Disability Act, 1995 and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) should not allow us to ask questions such as, ‘How to make employment and disability work’?
Disability representation matters. However, facts and figures prove the dismal scenario.
According to the Population Census 2011, there are 2.68 crores (2.21%) persons with disabilities in India. However, the actual number of people with disabilities is far greater than what has emerged in the Census - the estimates range from 5% to 15% of the population. Of the total population, only 26% constitute the working population, as per Census 2011.
The average employment rate of people with disabilities is 0.28 percent in the private sector and 0.54 percent in the public sector. A recent WHO report showed that 87 percent of persons with disabilities in India worked in the informal sector. Findings of the World Bank Report ‘People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes’ released in 2007, suggest that the employment rate of disabled people has actually fallen from 42.7% in 1991 down to 37.6 % in 2002.
The International Labour Organization (ILO)'s 2011 report 'Persons with Disability and The India Labour Market: Challenges and Opportunities' states that 73.6% of the disabled in India are still outside the labour force. Of these, those with mental disability, disabled women and those in rural areas are the worst neglected.
When one looks at the micro level, it may seem like there has been some progress. There is increased awareness amongst Corporates and people with disabilities. There has been pressure on the Government to implement The Disability Act, 1995. Even though there was no law mandating the private sector to employ disabled people, some companies have taken proactive measures to employ disabled people.
The Disability Act, 1995 was ground-breaking for more reasons than one. The Act specifically recognized the need for economic empowerment for people with disabilities and had provided several provisions for the same. Some of the salient points include:
- Section 32: Identification of posts which can be reserved for persons with disabilities - “Appropriate Governments shall identify posts, in the establishments, which can be reserved for persons with disability; at periodical intervals not exceeding three years, review the list of posts identified and update the list taking into consideration the developments in technology.”
- Section 33: Reservation of Posts - “Every appropriate Government shall appoint in every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than three per cent for persons or class of persons with disability of which one percent each shall be reserved for persons with a) blindness or low vision; b) hearing impairment; c) locomotor disability or cerebral palsy, in the post identified for each disability.”
- Section 40: Vacancies to be reserved in poverty alleviation schemes – “The appropriate Governments and local authorities shall reserve not less than three per cent in all poverty alleviation schemes for the benefit of persons with disabilities.”
- Section 41: Incentives to employers to ensure 5% of the workforce is composed of persons with disabilities – “The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide incentives to employers both in public and private sectors to ensure that at least five percent of their workforce is composed of persons with disabilities.”
- Section 47: (1) No establishment shall dispense with, or reduce in rank, an employee who acquires a disability during his service (2) No promotion shall be denied to a person merely on the ground of his disability.
The Act, further, in various clauses, has provided for non-discrimination, relaxations, affirmative action, accessibility, etc. There has been a long-standing demand of the disability sector for extending reservation in jobs for people with intellectual impairments, psychosocial disabilities, and, autism, multiple disabilities, which the New Bill on Disability has included.
Employment in the Government and Public Sector
Government Departments and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) have been an important employer of disabled people. In fact, the first Special Employment Exchange was set up way back in 1959 in Mumbai. The Government of India initiated the policy of 3% reservation in jobs for disabled people more than three decades ago in 1977. However, the reservation was only for lower ranking jobs (C & D categories). In 1995, when The Disability Act was passed, the reservation was extended to higher ranking jobs (A & B categories) as well.
To understand the scenario of employment of people with disabilities, NCPEDP had conducted an independent survey in 1999 of ‘Top 100’ companies in India, which included public sector companies. The survey highlighted the dismal rate of employment across different sectors. The report denoted that among the public sector companies, a disappointing 0.54% of the workforce constituted of persons with disabilities. A report by the World Bank in 2006-07, ‘People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes’, stated that only 0.37% of all posts in Ministries and Departments and 0.44% of all posts in public sector companies were filled by disabled people.
In spite of 3% reservation in employment, time and again, the fight with authorities to demand inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce is an ongoing one. In 2003, when two persons with disabilities who qualified on merit for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) were relegated to the Indian Information Service (IIS), NCPEDP and Disabled Rights Group (DRG) launched a campaign against the blatant discrimination, which led to the then Prime Minister to intervene and resolve the issue. As a result, more services, including high ranking services like IAS, IPS and IFS were opened up for persons with disabilities.
Certain key areas in the conversation around employment for persons with disabilities has been:
Clearing Backlog Vacancies
Till November 2010, only 1017 vacancies out of 7628 backlog vacancies had been filled up by the Government.
In a question hour during the Budget Session of the Parliament in May 2016, the government admitted to the failure in not being able to provide the three percent reservation as per law, which after a special recruitment drive from May 2015 – April 2016, followed the figures to only rise slightly over one percent, with the Department of Personnel and Training informing of 14,267 identified vacancies.
Many jobs remain ‘unidentified’ for persons with disabilities. Hence, many qualified people with disabilities are denied jobs in the Government due to this discriminatory policy.
What is alarming, is that the identification of white-collar jobs is based on physical requirements, such as bending, lifting, walking, pushing/pulling, etc. and not on skills and functions of the job! Based on the physical requirements, jobs are identified for people with One Arm (OA), Both Arms (BA), One Leg (OL), Both Legs (BL), Hard of Hearing (HH), Blind (B), Low Vision (LV), etc. Yes, it is as horrible as that!
As on December 2013, there were 40 “Special Employment Exchanges” for people with disabilities and 38 “Special Cells”. The total number of Employment Exchanges in the country is 978.
Moreover, the number of placements of people with disabilities by Employment Exchanges have been steadily declining over the years. It was 4,200 in 1999; 3700 in 2008 and only 2100 in 2012! This, while the total number of placements of non-disabled people by the Exchanges has increased from 1,77,700 in 2000, to 3,04,900 in 2008 and to 4,27, 600 in 2012.
An Inclusive and Barrier-Free Work Environment
The accessibility of the physical environment, although often considered, may never be implemented due to misconceptions. Many organizations question if there is sufficient demand by people with disabilities for an accessible environment. Access in the workplace is important for creating an inclusive workforce.
It is, therefore, important that the Government works towards creating a barrier-free work environment for persons with disabilities. Under the Accessible India Campaign, the government in March 2016, announced a set of guidelines for companies to assess how friendly they are to employees with disabilities as part of a "holistic approach" to create space for disabled people and make business houses more inclusive. These includes parameters such as barrier-free infrastructure, human resource policies such as minimum hiring percentage and training facilities for persons with disabilities. But a lack of binding guidelines could make this promising step all talk and no action.
Employment in the Private Sector
Considerable changes have resulted in the creation of identifiable value in a population previously marginalized by society, especially with legislation and quotas for persons with disabilities in the public sector. We need to bridge the gap to ensure persons with disabilities reach a platform from which to project economic power. The next step is to go beyond legal recognition into market recognition.
For the private sector, disability is not yet a material contributor to the profitability of a typical company.
Despite a lot of noises being made about the employment of people with disabilities in the past several years, especially in the private sector, proportionate results have been elusive.
In 1998, during its corporate research study, NCPEDP came to the shocking truth that only about 1 lakh disabled people have been able to get employment in the last 40 years. It was surprising to note that multinational companies, who follow strict quotas and laws for employing disabled people in other countries, had employed the least amount of disabled people in India. The study revealed that the overall percentage of employees with disability was only 0.4% with 0.28% in the private sector and 0.05% in Multi-National Companies.
A more recent study conducted by Cyber Media Research Ltd. for NASSCOM in 2013 to understand the employment scenario of persons with disabilities in the IT - BPM Industry, revealed that the percentage of employees with disabilities vis-a-vis total employees was only 0.36%!
The private sector was mentioned in The Disability Act only in Clause 41, which mandated the Government to announce incentives to promote employment of people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. This Clause remained only on paper till 2007.
In the Union Budget 2007-08, a Central Sector Scheme of providing one lakh jobs per annum to the persons with disabilities, with a proposed outlay of Rs. 1800 crores, during the Eleventh Plan, was announced. Under the Scheme, the Government makes the payment of the employer’s contribution to the Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance for the first three years, as an incentive, in return for employment of persons with disabilities with monthly wage up to Rs. 25,000/- per month. Based on the response received for an RTI filed by NCPEDP, the number of beneficiaries under the Scheme by Employees State Insurance Corporation was only 457 as on 28th February 2011 and by Employee Provident Fund Organization was merely 186, as on 30th December 2010. Clearly, the Scheme did not yield the desired result.
Moreover, disability has yet not been taken at a policy level and is still restricted to CSR activities like running IT training centres for a handful of visually impaired people and not even being able to absorb all of them in their own list of companies!
NCPEDP has in the past provided guidance and consultancy to companies on creating opportunities for people with disabilities, knowledge sharing, training, etc.
CII tied up with NCPEDP to enhance awareness on employment for persons with disabilities – Its industry newsletter carried success stories of enterprises that employ a substantial number of persons with disabilities and also interviews of individuals who have excelled in their professional fields.
As a part of NCPEDP’s approach to advocacy through recognition of best practices, the Helen Keller Awards since the past 16 years, have come to be recognized as the most prestigious Indian benchmark for honouring people and organizations which have been working towards promoting employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
NCPEDP through its National Convention on Youth with Disabilities (NCYD) also provides the exposure to youth with disabilities to interact with mentors who are significant persons in the industry. This is done to encourage businesses of all sizes to give young people with disabilities an opportunity to prove they, too, can work.
The Way Forward
It must be reiterated that accessibility, education and employment cannot be talked about in isolation. Only 2 percent of children with disabilities have access to any kind of education. This dismal percentage gets even lower as the level of education gets higher from primary to high school to college and university.
Until enough impetus is given to education of children/youth with disabilities, there will be a dearth of skilled disabled people.
Thus, the aim has been to largely voice out how people with disabilities represent an untapped pool of skills that can enhance any business, but for whom misconceptions, prejudice, physical and information barriers hamper access to the labour market. More than policies and incentives, it is common attitude which needs to change.