Opportunities galore for disabled

| | in Oped

The Government must strive to provide support to the persons with disabilities by launching high-growth ventures, and creating employment opportunities. As a first step, it must revive Arunim, which works for their recognition

Once hailed as first-of-its-kind ‘marketing board’ for products made by the disabled from across the country, eight-year-old Association for Rehabilitation under National Trust Initiative in Marketing (Arunim) is now gasping for breath.

After launching it with much fan-fare in 2008 under the National Trust, a statutory body of the Government, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment disowned it in 2014, saying that the organisation did not have the Cabinet’s approval. This dashed the hopes of thousands of artisans with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities.

Arunim is now fighting a legal battle, seeking funds and rights, as enshrined in the Memorandum of Agreement  signed with the National Trust, which parked one crore rupees as corpus fund for its functioning. More than this, Arunim is struggling against the apathy of the Ministry at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised support to empower the disabled, whom he referred to as the divyang.

Interestingly, APJ Abdul Kalam, while launching Arunim in 2008, termed it as a path-breaking innovation for creating livelihoods through entrepreneurship, with focus on persons with developmental disabilities.

In just six years, Arunim successfully build a huge membership base. It had over 250 NGOs in the disability sector as its members, it networked with various financial and corporate sectors, Government bodies and Ministries too, that promoted micro enterprises. It also build a brand by offering training in product design, introducing technology-based solutions.

Arunim became a huge cooperative network with leading designers, artists and skilled artisans in its fold to conduct workshops on skill development, designing and use of modern methods and incubate them to become entrepreneurs, to come out of sheltered workshops to lead a normal life with pride.

Data speaks: From a meager amount in the first year, the business of Arunim rose to 98 lakh in 2013-14, providing hand-hold to many hapless disabled through its member NGOs. However, with no fund in hand, work at Arunim has come to a standstill today.

SC Vashishth, senior lawyer working for the rights of people with disability, who is also representating Arunim in the High Court said, “Interestingly, the approval of the Cabinet for creation of petitioner can be taken ex post facto, for which necessary deliberations have taken place, but no action has been taken so far by the Ministry due to inaction for reasons best known to it.”

Vashishth also pointed out that Arunim’s objective is to not only improve economic conditions of persons with disability, but also to merge them with the mainstream and be a contributory in the growth of the economy.

Thilakam Rajendran, former Managing Director of Arunim, too felt that the organisation had created hopes and aspiration and opened up opportunities for people with moderate as well as severe disabilities to start their own ventures.

Strongly believing that self-employment and skill development of the disabled people is the best way to move towards inclusive model, Rajendran has started a limited liability partnership firm, Alliance To Promote Abilities & Rehabilitation, which aims to inculcate business tricks among aspiring entrepreneurs in the sector. They can become a job creator as well, providing employment to the able bodied people, she added.

World across, Governments too have been focusing on developing jobs through self-employment and entrepreneurship among the people with disabilities on the notion that entrepreneurship may lead to a break  down of barriers faced by people with disabilities.

La Trobe University Chairman in Entrepreneurship, Alex Maritz, is of the view that more nations are recognising the opportunities for higher labour force participation for those with disability, through self-employment and entrepreneurship.

Maritz is a leading Australian entrepreneurship academic and a global expert in seniorpreneurship — where older people start businesses. Maritz says international evidence shows targeted, inclusive entrepreneurship initiatives, such as training and support programmes, can help people with disabilities participate in self-employment. In India, there are about 100 million people with disabilities. It is a known, which is aunfortunate, that employment rate in our country is dismal. Discrimination is a major barrier for the people with disabilities.

People with developmental disabilities, like intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy, autism and multiple disabilities, find it more difficult to find job and the required support. In such a background, the Government must work to provide support to the people with disabilities to launch high-growth ventures, employ others, and create wealth for themselves and the community. Reviving Arunim will be a first step in this direction.

(The writer is Special Correspondent, The Pioneer)

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