Inclusive development holds the key to India achieving its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The term ‘inclusive’ refers to a rights-based expansion of India’s development paradigm – one that will create opportunities and conditions for each individual to live with dignity, to achieve his/her potential and to thrive, irrespective of any perceived disadvantages at birth.
One group that continues to be excluded from India’s mainstream development narrative is the community of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (PwIDDs). In India, despite laws that recognize and protect their rights, PwIDDs are regularly mistreated and denied basic human dignity. They are stigmatized and widely considered less deserving of opportunities for education and employment. This in turn impacts their ability to access the prospects, privileges and resources they need to achieve their full potential. The report “Count Me In: Building an inclusive ecosystem for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities” aims to break this cycle by changing the way India perceives intellectual and developmental disabilities altogether.
The report approaches this issue using the social model of disability. As per this model, disability is less a medical condition and more a social one, wherein social barriers such as prejudice and inaccessible infrastructure affect the ability of PwIDDs to participate in society. Using this framework, the report places PwIDDs at the center of its approach to understand the challenges they face across various life stages. It identifies key gaps in services and highlights the following strategic areas for investment and action to enable effective inclusion of PwIDDs:
- Birth and Early Intervention: Strengthen timely identification and family centered early intervention services
- Education: Equip educators with teaching strategies to cater to PwIDDs’ needs
- Employment: Create employment opportunities and conducive work environments for PwIDDs
- Sector Support: Drive awareness and advocacy using evidence- based research
On the ground, non-profit organizations are trying to address these gaps through eight distinct interventions, ranging from the provision of diagnostic services to advocacy for legislative change. The report profiles ten outstanding non-profit organizations – Action for Autism, Bethany Society, Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Jai Vakeel Foundation, Latika Roy Memorial Foundation, Muskaan, Rajasthan Mahila Kalyan Mandal Sanstha, Satya Special School, Ummeed Child Development Center and Vidya Sagar.
One key takeaway of the report is the apparent dependency on non-profit organizations to access even basic rights such as education and healthcare. It brings forth both the intense need and the absence of comprehensive systems and institutions across the country to address the needs of PwIDDs in a cohesive and structured manner.
This report, situated in the wider context of the growing momentum around disability rights, thus shines a spotlight on a traditionally underserved sector. It also gives us an opportunity to challenge societal attitudes towards disability and work towards inclusive development using targeted investments and collaborative approaches.