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India has 21.9 million disabled; Visual impairment highest of all disabilities

DNIS News Network - The Registrar-General of India recently released break-up figures for disability following the analysis of Census 2001 data.

The National Census is one of the greatest administrative exercises that the Indian Government undertakes to not only keep count of its citizens but to identify the basic profile that serve as the basis for policy formulation.

Therefore the successful struggle to get disability included in the Census 2001 was a great achievement, yet the modest count of persons with disability is hard to believe.

According to the recent data out of 21.9 million disabled people in the country – that constitutes about 2.13 per cent of the total population - 1.03 per cent are visually impaired, 0.16 per cent speech impaired, 0.12 per cent ‘hearing’ impaired, 0.59 per cent ‘movement’ impaired and 0.22 per cent ‘mentally’ disabled of the total national population.

The 2001 Census figures show that the highest percentage (48.5) of disabled is in the visual impairment category followed by the disability in ‘movement’ (27.9 percent). The lowest percentage (5.8) has been reported for hearing disability.

A higher percentage of disabled women are in the visually impaired and hearing impaired categories. In the case of males a higher percentage has been reported in the ‘movement disability’ and ‘mental disability’ categories.

The number of disabled people is increasing across all age groups. Disability has afflicted a higher percentage of males than females.

Three out of five children, among the disabled, in the age group of 0-9 years have been reported to be visually impaired. This declines initially and increases with age to reach a high of 51.9 per cent among those aged 60 years and above. Speech disability afflicts the younger population more whereas hearing disability is more of an ‘old age’ phenomenon.

Movement disability has the highest proportion (33.2 per cent) in the age group of 10-19 but is spread more or less uniformly across the broad age groups. This is largely true of ‘mental’ disability also except that the proportion of the disabled at 4.8 per cent is low for the elderly.

Disability sector feels that the Census result is highly underestimated. It claims that 5 % of population has one disability or the other.

It was quite a struggle for the disability sector to get disability included in Census 2001. However, Census Commission did not take adequate steps to educate the enumerators or create public awareness on the issue. However, it is certainly a good beginning to collect data on disability. The subsequent Censuses will be more realistic.