Differently-abled Employees in India
Of Inclusion, Empowerment and DisABILITIES
Various organisations and employers in India are ignorant about the inclusion and rehabilitation of disabled persons. However, there are others who are recognising the need to tap the differently-abled population to create a pool of happy and truly special employees; despite the challenges.
The menus are in place, coffee is ready to get brewed, the staff is dressed up, ready to serve and the shutter lifts up to welcome the customers. But, all your orders are going to fall on deaf ears here.
Upon entering the Costa Coffee outlet in Green Park, South Delhi, everything seems as normal as it is at any other coffee house, hence it takes a while to notice that the outlet is operated by hearing and speech impaired employees.
The menu not only caters to the taste buds but also speaks a language that people won’t hear at every cafe or restaurant in the country. Flex your biceps for ordering a strong coffee, adjust the size of your fingers to show the size of your cup or make a shape of a house with both your palms for a take-away order. Easy and interesting, right?
“It is just like playing dumb charades. Placing my order in different ways is fun. What I feel when I am here is something I cannot explain in words. The vibes are so positive and the staff always smiles at you with warmth,” says Srishti Kataria, a student of the Amity University, Delhi NCR.
While many are ignorant about the differently-abled, there are employers in the country who haven’t turned a blind eye towards them and believed in the ability of the disabled. More and more organisations in India are taking up the Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) seriously and are contributing towards the upliftment of differently-abled people.
Not only Costa, but other cafes, restaurants and retail outlets like Lifestyle, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Hyper City, Max, Dominos and Reliance retail, among others, are increasingly employing these people as cashiers, attendants, executives, store administrators and merchandisers, who welcome people with their infectious smiles.
Cafe Coffee Day too, has tied up with various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to work out avenues to employ more number of differently-abled people. Hundreds of speech and hearing impaired people are employed at their cafes and are popularly called the ‘silent brew masters’.
This potential in contributing to society has not gone unnoticed as many NGOs like Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India (TRRAIN) and Youth4Jobs are joining in to provide the disabled an opportunity to work. They are supporting the initiative by combining compassion and businesses to train the differently-abled population and making them fit to be able to work in the corporate world.
Kameshwari, who is speech and hearing impaired, is now working at Google, Hyderabad, in the facilities area and earns INR 125,000 per annum. After completing her studies from a special school, she applied for various jobs but was always rejected on account of her disability. “No one would look at our abilities but only at our disabilities. But now we (my husband and I) have moved from no meals to three meals a day. It is really like a magic,” she says.
Kameshwari and her husband are not the only ones; there are many others like them who are getting a chance to stand on their feet because of the trainings provided by organisations.
“We train the youth with disabilities from poor homes, mostly from villages. They are taken through a 60-days module, which includes English communication, soft skills, life skills and digital literacy. Depending on their aptitude, education and aspirations we provide them a sector-specific training like tally, hospitality, retail or ITES. Mornings begin with Yoga and meditation and the sessions are fun-filled and interactive. We teach English through songs and for the speech and hearing impaired, we have sign language trainers. Companies participate in our trainings by giving guest lectures, videos and modules. They also hire them after the training is completed,” says Meera Shenoy, founder of Youth4Jobs Foundation, a nonprofit NGO that sets up placement-linked skilling centres for youth with disability in India.
Of cue cards and warmth
Differently-abled youth at the billing counter in a Lifestyle retail store in West Delhi, make use of cue cards and sign language to interact with customers. What is impressive and unique about this is that the customers happily communicate with them through gestures and illustrations that are there on the cards, thus giving them a crash course before they leave. Surprisingly, some of them have even found new friendships.
“I have a friend here. Most of the times when I visit the store, I choose the billing counter where he does the billing. We don’t know anything about each other but I know he recognises me everytime because of the way he smiles at me,” says Vansh Sirohi, a resident of South-West Delhi.
While many are opting to help the disabled, there are some who are running outlets solely dependent on them. A message reading ‘You are entering a special KFC’ greets customers coming to an outlet in Dwarka, South-West Delhi. This KFC restaurant is operated and managed by employees with hearing and speech impairment, who work here as cleaners, cashiers and executives. These employees, who otherwise struggle with the encounters of social alienation, are provided with a normal and friendly work environment that encourages them to interact with the outside world.
“It is my favourite hangout place and has a special corner in my heart. Every time I come here, it makes me happy,” says Rishabh Kapoor, a student of Amity University.
Not a smooth sail
According to a recent report by the United Nations (UN), India is home to more than 100 million disabled citizens but only 100,000 of them are successful in obtaining employment.
What could possibly be more handicapped than a mind that refuses to acknowledge talent? Even after the Persons with Disability Act, 1995 in India mandates 3 pc reservation for differently-abled in government jobs, the opportunities are still poorly lit. Government is not able to fulfil the requirements of 3 pc job quotas for disabled population, ramp to improve working conditions, help improve the educational level or completely eliminate any form of discrimination.
“Many companies in India are ignorant about inclusion and disability. There is a misconception that it is expensive to hire disabled persons. Along with this, the differently-abled youth have a low self-esteem since their parents and society believe that they are useless and unemployable. The situation is worse if you are a girl,” explains Meera.
Along with this, infrastructure in India is not well-equipped for the differently-abled people to travel and work. For instance, the standard size of the workstations may be too high or too low for people with wheelchairs and crutches. And it is a challenge for them to use stairs at places where there are no lifts or escalators.
Transportation facilities for pick and drop are also not provided to the employees in all organisations and for the differently-abled, it may be difficult to travel alone, especially with the poor conditions of roads and public transports.
Though the government has launched an accessibility campaign and the Ministry has brought out an Accessibility Index, the issue of accessibility is so big that it cannot be solved overnight.
India’s increasing population of differently-abled individuals means that the need for educational and employment resources is apparent now more than it ever was. With majority of the differently abled population living in rural areas, the issue of accessibility is not getting the attention it needs.
However, with the initiatives to ameliorate the situation of the differently-abled population, things are changing for better, gradually.