India’s visually impaired face several hurdles in race for jobs

Poor education and worse employment opportunities

Society

October 15, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

India’s visually impaired face several hurdles in race for jobs

Only 29.16 pc of the blind in India are part of the education system and a fraction of them find a job after completing their studies (Photo: Indian Association for the Blind)

Home to over a third of the world’s visually impaired population, India’s blind face a challenge at every step towards a job. From simple mobility to education and employment, everything remains beyond their reach in every part of the country.

Of the 39 million visually impaired persons around the world, India is home to about 12 million, says a report by National Programme for Control of Blindness in 2015-18. Despite historically being home to the largest population of the blind in the world, India is specially poorly equipped to offer the visually impaired tools that would enable them to lead a normal life. The country has consistently failed in providing access to education as well as employment to them, with only token efforts made to even implement the government schemes meant to help the disabled. As a result, most of the blind remain out of the education and employment world and are unable to lead an independent life that education and a job would allow them.

According to a survey conducted by the National Council of Education Research and Training, only 29.16 pc of the blind in India are part of the education system and less than half of these find a job after completing their studies, even though most of them want to find a job and actively search for one. But many fall out of the job market due to unequal opportunities or inadequate facilities.

“After completing my studies, I went for many interviews in several companies. But being a visually impaired person, mobility is a very big issue for a person like me,” says Diya (name changed), a resident of New Delhi.

“During the job interviews, in many cases, we fail to convince them that we will do our best and do as much work as an abled person, but in many cases they underestimate us due to our disability,” Diya tells Media India Group.

The challenges for the visually impaired start very early on, beginning with education as few Indian schools are equipped with the necessary facilities to allow these students to study. For instance, a mere 6.86 pc schools in India have access to Braille books and an audio content-based education system which can be of immense use to the blind students.

Despite, efforts by various NGOs all over the country, the numbers are far too big for any institution to handle by itself and in the absence of action by government or even most of the large companies, proper education remains beyond the reach of most.

A mere 6.86 pc schools in India have access to Braille books and an audio content-based education system to the blind students (Photo: Indian Association for the Blind)

To help the visually impaired, the National Association of the Blind (NAB), a non-profit organisation that works for the visually impaired, advocates the concept of integrated education for social fulfillment. It aims to to embed computer education and assistive technology into the lives of every visually impaired person.

To achieve this goal, the NAB has set up an integrated education department that equips the blind students with some training to allow them to study in normal schools and then sends them to various government-run and private schools. It also provides remedial teaching and enrichment classes with the help of assistive devices and specially developed Teaching Learning Material to maximise their learning.

Shantha Rangarajan of Principal of the education department of NAB says that right from the beginning NAB trains these students to read and write independently with a help of technology.

“From the level of early school years itself, they are trained to read and learn with the digital tools that help them to do their work independently and at a very early age itself. We have seen rise in productivity in our students as they actually have a keen interest to learn and do much better,” Rangarajan tells Media India Group.

Rangarajan dispels the notion that the visually impaired students are any lesser than others, but points at the very limited reach of tools to help them get education. Yet, even the few that do get the opportunity, outdo others by a wide margin.

“Even though only a few of the disabled people get a chance to educate themselves, they actually do better than we expect. It actually helps them to excel in their studies as well as at workplace,” says Rangarajan.

She goes on to say that as in education, even at the workplace, students with visual or other disabilities outperform the able person largely because they are highly motivated to prove themselves as equals and with a proper foundation and facilities, they can be amongst the top performers wherever they go.

“Everything depends on their education and training, but usually a disabled person who gets an opportunity to study, never drops outs form schools. As learning in technology training really boosts and makes their task easy to learn and understand. But doing jobs after their studies are purely bases on their talents and efforts.”

Diya agrees. “Use of technology played a major role in learning as well as in understanding. Now I am able to do my office work independently as I was used to it,” she says.

Getting a job remains a challenge

But just by completing or even excelling at their education does not guarantee a job for the disabled. This reflects in the fact that less than one in 10 visually impaired person of working age finds a job, any job to do.

This is due to two main reasons – few opportunities for the visually impaired and rigid mindset of the employers. Though over the years, many companies are becoming aware of the need to create facilities in order to employ the blind, the actual number of domains where such persons can work is highly restricted. For instance, most companies employ the visually impaired for basic jobs like entry-level IT, programming or secretarial jobs. There are hardly any senior job roles that have been equipped to allow a blind person to take the job. But even more than the lack of facilities, it is a rigid mindset, that considers the visually impaired as inefficient and poor employees, that acts as an insurmountable barrier in opening up employment opportunities for them.

At specially equipped schools, from an early age blind students are trained to read and learn with the digital tools  that help them to do their work independently (Photo: Indian Association for the Blind)

“There is a lot of hesitancy in giving employment to completely blind person. Of course, we cannot do all kinds of jobs, there are only fields where we can work. But even in that sector, we are denied a level playing field or adequate opportunity, mainly because the recruiters are flooded with applications from abled persons,” Diya tells Media India Group.

Diya goes on to say that even in the companies that do hire the disabled, there is widespread discrimination, stemming from mindset of the employers. “Even if we get a job in any field, then the salary becomes another major problem for us. First, we do not get paid as much as an abled person would be paid even though we do the same work and often much better than the abled persons. Not only is the salary low, but also due to our disabilities, the expenditure of travelling to and from workplace is almost double of what others would incur,” says Diya.

Government jobs nowhere to be seen

Though the government has reserved 3 pc of its jobs for the disabled, its impact on their employment has been highly limited, mainly because the government jobs were already far too few to make a meaningful difference to the jobs available for the disabled. On top of that, most government departments have stopped hiring, thus the vacancies and job opportunities remain only on paper. Thus the competition for the few jobs that do open up is extremely intense. “The competition over these reserved seats is very high as many people depend on these reserved seats. The reservation is there, but it is far from being compatible with the number of people searching for a job,” says Diya.

Rangarajan agrees. “Reservation of government jobs for the disabled people is a major step to help them, but each year the competition increases, leading to a lack of job opportunity for many,” she says.

Girls bear the brunt

While life is challenging for the visually-disabled, it is a much bigger problem for the girls as more often than not they are made to drop out of school as their parents are keen to have them married off at the earliest.

“Many girls are forced to drop out of school and never make it to the job market, but nobody can help in such cases as the parents don’t support their children. They just want to marry off their disabled daughters,” says Rangarajan.

Diya says due to social norms and widespread discrimination against the girl child, girls as a rule lag behind boys. This gap becomes even more severe in case of a disabled girl.

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