Accurate and dependable data is essential for planning, framing policies and developing programmes in order to address any issue in a focused manner. It is true of the data on persons with disabilities. The statistical information should not only be accurate, it should also be available within a reasonably acceptable time frame before it becomes obsolete. It is also necessary that the data cover wide range of information, such as type of disability, age profile, rural and urban distribution, education, employment status, etc for effective intervention and desired outcomes.

Collection of data on disability dates back to 1872 with the first Indian Census. Until 1931, it was referred to as infirmity. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) made the first attempt to collect data on the number of persons with disabilities in the 15th round during July, 1959 to June, 1960. However, those data did not contain the required details, nor was it a regular feature.

The infirmity rate per 1 lakh population varied between 228 to 369 during 1881 and 1931 i.e. approx 0.23 percent to 0.37* percent of the population. The infirmities included insanity, deaf-muteness, blindness and leprosy.

NSSO in its 58th round during July-Dec, 2002 collected detailed & comprehensive information in respect of persons with visual, hearing, speech, locomotor as well as mental disabilities. On the request of Ministry of Social Justice & Employment, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (RG&CCI) also included the question on disability status in Census, 2001. Summary of the findings of the two organizations are given in this chapter.

Comparative data on disability - NSSO - 02 & Census - 01

The NSSO-02 Survey was based on 4637 villages and 3354 urban blocks in the country. A total of 45,571 households in the rural areas and 24,731 households in the urban areas were surveyed as sample. On the other hand, the census provides relatively complete coverage of the population characteristics. However, definitions of different disabilities and the extent of disabilities being complex issue, it is difficult to adequately train the enumerators and for them to collect and capture detailed and correct information in respect of each individual.

It is also difficult to collect specific data with reference to the definitions of different disabilities as given in the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. Despite all these limitations, RG & CCI and NSSO have provided the comprehensive data to a great extent. As per the NSSO - 2002, the estimated number of persons with disabilities in India was 1.85 crores i.e. 1.85 percent of the population. The Census 2001, estimated it to be 2.19 crores (2.13% of the population). Though the variation between the total population of persons with disabilities in the country is small, the disability wise variations are too wide. The figures are given in the following table -

Disability-wise details (in lakhs)

DisabilityNSSO (in lakh/%age)Census(in lakh/%age)
Locomotor106.34(51.19%) 61.05 (27.86%)
Visual28.26 (13.60%)106.3 (48.54%)
Hearing30.62 (14.74%)12.62 (5.76%)
Speech21.55 (10.37%)16.41 (7.49%)
Mental20.96 (10.09%)22.64 (10.33%)
Total207.73 (1.8) 219.02 (2.1%)

Source: NSSO-02 & Census-01

One of the important and crucial points to be noted is that 75% of the persons with disabilities are in the rural areas as per both the estimates.

The difference in the data of population of different disabilities is stated to be primarily because of the adoption of different definitions of disabilities by the two organizations.