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Unlocking the Purple Economy: A Roadmap for Disability Inclusion and Economic Empowerment

In a world where diversity and inclusivity are no longer mere buzzwords but essential drivers of progress, the purple economy stands as a beacon of hope, opportunity, and untapped potential. This emerging economic perspective is centred around the needs, talents, and contributions of persons with disabilities (PwDs), a segment of society that has long been marginalised and underrepresented in the workforce.

Tapping Potential of the Purple Economy

The purple economy holds significant economic potential globally. Excluding PwDs from the workforce results in substantial GDP losses for countries, ranging from 3% to 7%, according to a 2022 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Conversely, embracing inclusion could unlock a multi-billion dollar market opportunity, as highlighted by a 2023 study by Accenture in collaboration with disability organisations.

In India, with 26.8 million PwDs, comprising 2.2% of the population, the potential for innovation and job creation is immense. According to a report by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), the market for PwD-focused products and services in India alone could exceed $20 billion, emphasising the economic and social imperative of disability inclusion. This untapped market presents opportunities for businesses to develop inclusive solutions, drive innovation and job creation,  while contributing to the overall economic growth and societal well-being of PwDs.

Disabilities, not a singular box

Disabilities encompass a wide range of categories, including physical, cognitive, and mental health challenges, which can hinder full societal participation. The prevalence of different types of disabilities varies across regions, with factors such as stigma and lack of awareness contributing to underreporting. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes disability as the interaction between impairments and environmental barriers.

This broader understanding highlights the need for inclusive environments and equal opportunities to enable persons with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of life, moving towards an inclusive and equitable society.

Employment and Inclusion: Bridging the Gap

Embracing diversity can unlock innovation and competitiveness, as evidenced by Accenture’s findings of 28% higher revenue and doubled net income for companies implementing disability-inclusion practices. Creating an enabling environment for PwDs not only empowers individuals but also enriches talent pools and drives economic growth.

Several Indian and multinational corporations have spearheaded such inclusion efforts. Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program has onboarded over 200 PwDs on the autism spectrum, offering specialised training and accommodations. Accenture has globally hired over 35,000 PwDs, including over 16,000 in India. 

Homegrown hospitality group Lemon Tree Hotels has over 380 Employees With Disability (EWD) and nearly 700 economically and socially marginalized employees making it a total of over 13% opportunity deprived Indians, out of the total employees. These initiatives showcase the transformative impact of proactive inclusion strategies in fostering diverse and thriving workplaces.

Products and Services Tailored for PwDs: A Growing Market

As the purple economy gains momentum, there’s a rising demand for tailored products and services for PwDs, spanning assistive technologies, healthcare, and infrastructure. Globally, the assistive technology market is forecasted to reach $13.2 billion by 2030, according to a report by Zion Market Research, with India’s market valued at $1 billion, set to expand significantly.

Tech giants with their AI-based live speech feature, and Google with its Lookout app, a programme that describes images for those with impaired vision, are innovating accessible features.

Challenges and the Way Forward

The purple economy in India faces hurdles in achieving sustainable growth and impact due to persistent social stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities. Inadequate infrastructure, especially in digital platforms and transportation systems, hinders their societal and economic participation.

Limited access to education and skill development programmes further impedes employment prospects. Despite legislative efforts like the RPWD Act 2016, gaps in policy implementation persist, necessitating comprehensive reforms.

Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach involving governments, private sector entities, civil society, and individuals. The government has taken initiatives like the Accessible India Campaign (2015) and the “Divyang Sarathi” programme (2017) to address accessibility and social stigma, respectively.

However, more concerted efforts are needed to strengthen legal and policy frameworks, invest in accessible infrastructure, promote inclusive education and skill development programs, and foster partnerships. Initiatives targeting discrimination, coupled with investments in accessible digital platforms and transportation systems, are crucial to facilitating the full participation of PwDs in all spheres of life.

 By nurturing an inclusive environment and providing equal opportunities, India can unlock the untapped potential of the purple economy, driving innovation, job creation, and overall economic prosperity while promoting social equity and empowerment.

 Embracing disability inclusion and empowering PwDs not only unlocks economic potential but also promotes social justice and human rights, creating a more equitable and prosperous society for all.

Written by Global DEI Alliance, an initiative that brings together individuals and organizations from around the world who are committed to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and beyond.

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