March 2008

Identifying ‘Differently Abled’ With ICT

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  Defining the dis-abled

Total estimated number of disabled people in the world is 650 million. Almost eighty per cent of all disabled persons in the world live in isolated rural areas in the developing countries. In India, the decennial census sequentially couldn't focus on disability in set format since its inception. The information on disability were collected for India's decennial census since its inception in 1872. The questionnaire of the 1872 Census included questions not only on the physically challenged but also the mentally challenged and persons affected by leprosy. In each of the successive decadal censuses between 1872 and 1931, the information on disabled population were collected. But the enumeration of physically disabled persons was discontinued during the 1941 Census. In 1976, the United Nations launched its International Year for Disabled Persons (1981). It resulted in inclusion of a question on disability during censuses all over the world. A questionnaire on disabilities was again canvassed at the 1981 Census of India. But, the question was framed on three broad categories of physical disabilities for the House listing Operations of 1981 Census. These categories were: (i) 'Totally Blind', (ii) 'Totally Dumb' and (iii) 'Totally Crippled'. The question on disability was not canvassed again in the 1991 Census of India. A comprehensive headcount of mentally and physically challenged people in India has been released in August, 2004 as a part of 2001 census enumeration result.

Both the Census of India and National Sample Survey Organisations (NSSO) collect information on nature and magnitude of disability in India. But the results are not comparable because of the differences in the definitions used by them. Census of India 2001 states that there are 21,906,769 disabled people in India and disability rate is 2.13 per cent. Of the total disabled people, around 75 per cent belong to rural communities and the remaining belong to urban areas. Among all disabled people, around 58 per cent are males and 42 per cent are females. Among all the states in India, Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, has the maximum number of disabled people. On the other hand, disability proportion in Sikkim (3.8 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (3 per cent) and Jammu and Kashmir (3 per cent) is higher than the national average.

Census data of 2001 provide us with the basic information on disabled people. Based on this data, we can analyse the following: (i) spatial distribution of 'differently abled' people, (ii) their nature of disabilities, (iii) their socio-economic and cultural status. The analysis can provide us the base for further planning for implementing any ICT tool to increase the ability of 'differently abled' people.

Types of disabilities

There are five types of disabilities identified in Indian Census: visual, speech, hearing, movement and mental. Some disabilities are genetic, some are by birth, some by accident, some by disease; but census can't provide all these important information for all areas. It is the task of researchers to find out the causes of the disabilities also, apart from simply solving their economic crisis by means of a tele-kiosk or a self help tool with ICT. Because in our country, many a times, the lack of awareness also spreads disability from one generation to another. ICT can act as a problem solver by means of spreading awareness about (i) the causes and remedies of some disabilities, (ii) nearby and affordable treatment centres of physical and mental disabilities, (iii) ways of getting economic assistance for getting health care, etc. 'Digital learning', which is still mainly available with the privileged sections of the society in our country, can also bring change to the 'differently abled' people and their surroundings.

Use of ICTs

It has been already proved that the sense organs of 'differently abled' people function in different manners with different levels of efficiency. Therefore, improving their efficiency with help of ICT tools is not impossible for them and advancement in the field of ICT has enabled many of such people with physical or mental challenges to improve the quality of their life. But, could we ever map the areas in our own country to locate such people? Do we know how many of the differently abled people have got the privilege of using ICT tools?

Before thinking of implementing any ICT based development project for socio-economic development of this section of the society, we need to locate them first, at state level, district level and also at micro level (in rural and urban areas). The social mapping of 'differently abled' population can provide us the idea about some factors which are most essential for development planning for such people. ICT can be useful as a tool to many users, but it is always essential to analyse the nature of target beneficiaries and their need before launching any development project .



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