Special needs

Dysfunctional support system

Government-run institutions in India fail to enable the inclusion of people with disabilities (PwDs) in the labour market as is demanded by UN human-rights principles. Typically, PwDs are stuck in poverty in the informal sector.
It is better to live in a city: children in Bangalore. Liba Taylor/Lineair It is better to live in a city: children in Bangalore.

India’s state-run system for providing educational opportunities to persons with disabilities (PwDs) is deeply flawed. Take the example of the Industrial Training Institute for the Physically Handicapped (ITIPH) in Kolkata. It is equipped with expensive, state-of-the-art and specially designed machines for PwDs and offers vocational training with ensuing employment assured. The irony is that the Institute is now open to persons without disabilities on the pretext of there not being “enough demand”.  However, there has been no serious attempt to reach out to PwDs in rural areas, where the vast majority lives.

In general, the central-government run Vocational Resource Centres (VRCs) have good infrastructure and counsellors to assist the PwDs. They offer aptitude-based skills training and flexi-time programmes. However, too many of the skills they teach are outdated and do not lead to high-quality employment. Bookbinding, stenography and typing are examples of skills that are being taught even thought they are hardly in labour-market demand.

Like the ITIPH, the VRCs rural outreach is poor moreover. There are only few extension centres outside urban areas. VRCs normally only respond to the needs of rural PwDs when they are approached by non-governmental organisations that work in the villages. However, there are only few such NGOs that focus on PwDs.

The urban bias matters very much. Only 1.5 % of the PwDs in rural areas get any training at the VRCs, and there is little evidence of VRC alumni sustaining gainful self-employment. The VRCs offer no support for aspiring entrepreneurs, but without such support, self-employment is doomed to fail.

Too many training programmes – whether governmental or run by NGOs – focus only on skills but neglect skill utilisation. There is little help to ease the transition from acquiring skills to settling down in a skills-based job. Insulated from the market realities and without support in regard to credit and raw materials, many training programmes remain half-measures. What is needed is a start-to-end-approach, ensuring that people find livelihoods after completing a training programme.

Vocational training programmes for PwDs often operate in a one-size-fit-all style. They do not cater to the diverse needs of persons with diverse disabilities. There are many different kinds of impairments, and some are more severe than others. In the typical government vocational training programmes, men with orthopedic impairments are over-represented. The reason is that this target group is the easiest to accommodate.  In the absence of formal training institutions, PwDs often fall back on their own social networks to acquire skills. The advantage of informal training is that it is an integral part running a business and the new recruits are assimilated fast. After a short apprenticeship comprising mainly informal learning-by-doing, physically impaired persons start earning money. The downside is that these jobs are generally low-paid and do not offer any security of employment. As productivity remains quite low, the PwDs are stuck in poverty in the informal sector. (is)

Ipsita Sapra is a sociologist at the Hyderabad campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Her PhD thesis dealt with young people with disabilities.


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