Insurance for assistive technology and person’s disability

‘Nothing about us, without us’ is a vision that has been echoed by the disabled community, however it’s time now for ‘Nothing Without Us’. The winds of change have begun blowing and some good things about us are happening along with us! Two recent major headway on personal counts – insurance for my wheelchair and […]

‘Nothing about us, without us’ is a vision that has been echoed by the disabled community, however it’s time now for ‘Nothing Without Us’. The winds of change have begun blowing and some good things about us are happening along with us! Two recent major headway on personal counts – insurance for my wheelchair and health insurance – hold major promise for the future of disabled people in India. The tiny triumph, that gives me a reason to smile, did not come without its share of tribulations, and this journey has been revealing about the tough path ahead.
I’ve relied on a wheelchair as my lifeline since 2010, transitioning from crutches to full-time wheelchair use for mobility reasons over time. There have been numerous occurrences where my wheelchair faced challenges due to inaccessible physical infrastructure, a specific incident stands out from a visit to Guwahati railway station in the state of Assam, India. This incident occurred while I was there to see off children with disabilities participating in a drama event organised by NSD in Delhi. There, while attempting to reach a platform that necessitated crossing railway tracks due to a lack of accessibility, my wheelchair suffered irreparable damage. What followed was a painstaking three-week ordeal involving the procurement of a damaged part all the way from Germany, with a hefty price tag of approx. 215 US Dollars. Each time my wheelchair requires repairs, I incur expenses ranging from 300 to 600 US Dollars, in addition to the annual servicing cost of 360 to 600 US Dollars.
The mere thought of my wheelchair being damaged or being in an unusable condition sends tremors of vulnerability through my core. For years, in India, the lack of insurance coverage for assistive devices has been painful, placing an undue burden on those who are already navigating life with innumerable challenges.
A standard manual wheelchair costs from 600 to 6000 US Dollars. On the other hand, motorized wheelchairs can vary significantly, ranging from 945 to well over 21,594 US Dollars based on individual requirements. This financial barrier restricts their engagement in productive, household, and community endeavours.
However, with the recent breakthrough, perhaps the first in the country, achieved in insuring my wheelchair through SBI General Insurance, a glimmer of hope emerges. The journey to this milestone has been a two-year-long endeavour marked by determination, resilience, and a collective effort.
My work requires me to travel frequently. Unfortunately, many places in India are not designed with physical access in mind, which creates concerns about the potential for damage to my wheelchair. Out of worry, I shared a tweet in August 2021 asking for insurance coverage for wheelchairs and assistive devices. Only nine out of 22 companies I wrote to responded. Finally, SBI General Insurance emerged as the partner willing to pave the way for change. On July 21, this year, the company granted me an ‘All Risk Insurance Policy’, taking India to the league of developed nations like the US, UK, Germany, Japan and Canada that provide for insurance for wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
Assistive devices are not mere conveniences for any disabled person; they are essential lifelines that empower them to lead their lives with independence and dignity. The range of the assistive devices is huge. Mobility aids encompass wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, prosthetic and orthotic devices. Hearing aids enhance auditory perception. Cognitive aids, like computer devices, aid memory and thinking. Computer software (e.g., voice recognition, screen readers) supports mobility and sensory-impaired computer use. These examples represent just a fraction of the devices and technologies that assist individuals with disabilities in their daily tasks. The extensive variety clearly indicates that a single insurance product cannot cater to all needs. Since the challenges are diverse and distinct, the insurance product should be tailored accordingly.
In the context of disability-inclusive development, India holds the 77th position among 183 countries (according to the 2021 World Disability Report). Furthermore, individuals with disabilities frequently find themselves engaged in lower-paying occupations, resulting in incomes averaging only a third of those earned by individuals without disabilities (as highlighted in a World Bank report).
Amidst the glaring disparities that persist, securing insurance for my wheelchair brings a spark of optimism for achieving equality and recognition for the disabled community. It is time the Government of India integrated assistive device insurance within the framework of health insurance policies tailored for disabled individuals.
In the second instance, in a significant leap towards inclusivity, I am glad to share that in October this year I managed to also secure health insurance of Rs 5 lakh coverage (5,997 USD), a first of its kind for those with locomotor disability. This holds significance for me as I’ve been attempting to secure health insurance for seven years, facing inexplicable and consistent denials from insurance companies. Star Health & Allied Insurance Company, which took this historic leap forward deserves special appreciation. This gives hope to many about the safety net that health insurance brings.
Coming close on the heels of the wheelchair insurance, I am enthused about this development. This is a welcome development and I now urge all people with disabilities to come forward and apply for a health insurance policy.
It sends a resounding message that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are gaining the recognition and respect they rightfully deserve. Health insurance is not just about financial security; it’s about ensuring equal access to healthcare and wellness for everyone.
It is crucial to create an inclusive insurance ecosystem. Recent positive developments in insurance are promising, but awareness about disability rights and benefits remains low. I aim to raise awareness among individuals and their families to bridge this gap. India, a country with highest number of people with disabilities, is still growing & moving towards inclusion every day, where the cost of living with a disability defines in a certain manner how one can shape his life, hence, creating an inclusive insurance ecosystem, which covers assistive aids and appliances as well is crucial.
With our Hon’ble Prime Minister of Indiadriving the mainstreaming & inclusion of persons with disabilities, it must be our duty to support and drive change by engaging with the government and stakeholders, guiding them towards constructive solutions. Be the change, and change will happen.
I urge each person with disability to come forward and apply for their insurance and reach out to our national helpline – +91 9811980108 at any step where they face an issue. I also urge them to share their success stories of getting insurance.
The writer is Executive Director of NCPEDP