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Friday, August 7, 2020
Jul 30 2020 (IPS) - Over the next seven years, Google will invest a whopping $10 billion in India to improve technology, health and education, according to CEO Sundar Pichai. This is unprecedented and could be a game changer that could improve health, education and economic empowerment.
While Google should be commended for such foresight, it is also pertinent to note that there was no mention of how this investment would benefit India’s 26 million persons living with disabilities. Without a doubt, investments in the Indian economy must be all-inclusive. This means including persons living with disabilities, particularly women and children.
For long, disability has been neglected to the detriment of millions of Indians who live with various forms of it. The plight of persons living with disabilities in India is not unique. In the global south, efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of persons with disabilities are usually led by individuals with disabilities, civil society and disabled persons organisations.
Indeed, inequities faced by persons living with disabilities have been magnified at this time of COVID-19. These challenges include unprecedented number of deaths, lack of access to finances, people-centered healthcare, home–based caregivers etc. Furthermore, closure of intervention centres and special schools, have postponed assessments and therapy sessions for children with developmental disabilities.
Education is also a major chal
There are many non-profits and government organisations in India that provide services to persons with disabilities, and most have been closed since April 2020, but staff are working overtime to provide the best services through online mediums thereby avoiding disruption of services and ensuring continued developmental progress in children.
So far, feedback from families are varied: from increased involvement of parents to no progress because such parents do not have access to digital technology.
This is the time to build a new era with accessibility as its key feature in India. However, to realise this, the private sector must play a key role as a funder and incubator of ideas.
These are five ways Google could ensure that its $10 billion investment in India is inclusive of persons living with disabilities.
First, involve persons living with disabilities in any plans to discuss the investment. This involvement must be from the beginning when plans are developed to when impact is evaluated. New initiatives must actively seek inputs from persons living with disabilities with different kinds of impairment. If this diverse representation is pursued, the inputs would be inclusive and could mitigate some challenges that may arise.
Second, ensure at least 20% of all roles are reserved for persons living with disabilities, to be well distributed along gender and age groups. Women are needed in leadership positions as the impact they make are phenomenal, with valuable indices like empathy, wellbeing and happiness. Also, children living with disabilities should not be left out.
Third, improve healthcare delivery by training health workers on providing care that is respectful and meets the needs of persons living with disabilities. Health facilities must be obligated to provide services without discrimination.
To achieve this, the investment should include partnerships with schools where health workers are trained to make the curriculum disability-friendly. Health workers already in service should also be trained and retrained on disability-centered care. Disability competencies for health professionals adopted by medical schools in India, should be used to train students, as well as train and retrain health professionals.
Fourth, ensure provision of social determinants of health such access to education, economic empowerment, access to clean water and sanitation for persons living with disabilities. For instance, access to clean water and sanitation helps reduce the incidence of infectious diseases.
Indeed, one of the most important public health interventions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is frequent hand washing with soap under running water. Moreover, the more educated people are, the better their health-seeking behaviours.
Also, providing economic empowerment interventions would empower persons living with disabilities to pay for their healthcare themselves when the need arises.
Lastly, such a huge investment requires regular monitoring and evaluation. Persons living with disabilities should be included in monitoring teams. No one better than persons living with disabilities can evaluate the impact and the influence of programs that create change and transformation to improve the quality of life of members of the community. Also, lessons learnt can help others know how to cater for the needs of persons living with disabilities.
To be sure, Google is a private business and is entitled to deploy its corporate social responsibility however it deems fit. However, as one of its biggest markets, India is deserving of this investment.
It would amount to perpetuating gross inequities in India if persons living with disabilities are left behind again.
Dr Shubha Nagesh is a medical doctor and works with the Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun India
Dr. Ifeanyi M. Nsofor, is a medical doctor, a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the CEO of EpiAFRIC and Director of Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. He is a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University, a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a 2006 International Ford Fellow.
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