Abstract: Economic Inequality and Stigmatization: The Experiences of Individuals with Disabilities in India (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Economic Inequality and Stigmatization: The Experiences of Individuals with Disabilities in India

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Misa Kayama, MSW, PhD, Assistant professor, University of Mississippi, University, MS

Worldwide, poverty rates for individuals with disabilities are higher than in the general population. Further, the employment rate of working age people with disabilities is about half that of those without disabilities (WHO, 2011), due, in part, to stigmatization associated with disability. Such economic inequality profoundly affects their lives, including access to appropriate health care and education. India and its caste system provide an important context to examine economic inequality (Antony, 2013). Although all individuals with disabilities face stigmatization, those from lower castes face greater challenges due to the cumulative effects of social/socioeconomic status and disability. The incidence of disability is higher among individuals in lower castes than other groups (Prasad & Patel, 2015) because of their limited access to medical care and inadequate nutrition. Guided by sociocultural perspectives, including developmental cultural psychology (Miller et al., 2003), this study aims to understand economic inequality and stigmatization through examinations of the experiences of individuals with disabilities in India.


This study examines individual interviews of 25 people with visual (10), hearing (7), and mobility (8) disabilities in India. Participants were purposively selected to include individuals who have various disabilities and diverse educational/employment status, from those receiving vocational training after leaving public education to graduate students (age range from 20 to 49). They participated in one-hour semi-structured interviews conducted in English and Hindi. Participants described their experiences of disability at home, school, and work. All recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim and translated into English by a graduate student who was fluent in both English and Hindi. Using analytic induction techniques, emic codes were induced through repeated readings of transcripts to understand participants’ experiences (Schwandt, 2007). The analyses were critiqued by professionals in India and the U.S. for the purpose of peer debriefing (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).


Participants’ experiences of stigmatization, including social exclusion at school and work, were exacerbated or alleviated by their family’s socioeconomic status. Participants from low-income families described limited access to medical services, including necessary treatments for their disabilities; primary and secondary education; and higher-paying, stable jobs. Some even acquired their disabilities after receiving inappropriate medical treatments or vaccinations. Many of them received vocational training that prepared them to work as housekeepers, telephone operators, etc. In contrast, most participants from upper-middle class families had access to formal higher education. Although they described some challenges due to their disabilities, such as transportation and communication issues, they also had financial resources to handle those challenges.


These findings sensitize professionals around the world to the issue of economic inequality faced by individuals with disabilities, which also is considered a relevant issue globally, including in the U.S. (Ghosh & Parish, 2013). Unless the underlying issue of poverty is addressed, individuals with disabilities from low-income families continue to struggle, even if they receive disability services. They can benefit from comprehensive interventions addressing both disability and economic well-being. Such intervention requires a broader attention to family and social issues, including poverty, which can contribute to social inclusion of people with disabilities.