Life took a complete turn for Mounesh Marathe from Gadag when he bagged a job as cashier at a bakery in Total Mall on Sarjapur Road. As a person with severe orthopaedic disability that makes him completely dependent on a pair of crutches, Mounesh initially had no hope that he will get to work in a mainstream job alongside regular people.
“Physically challenged people are not valued in the society, they think we are a burden. We have a huge inferiority complex, which we should set aside,” he says with conviction.
Now Mounesh finds everything useful and nothing indispensable; everything wonderful and nothing miraculous, thanks to Pankh- Wings of Destiny, an initiative by Trust for Retailers & Retail Associates of India (TRRAIN) and Youth 4 Jobs Foundation (Y4J).
The initiative has placed hundreds of People With Disabilities (PwD) in various jobs across the four southern states of the country. Through training programmes spanning between 45 and 70 days, hundreds of specially-abled people, with over 40 per cent locomotor disabilities and hearing impairment are given jobs in the retail industries like supermarkets, restaurants, and fast-food joints.
According to Ameesha Prabhu, the CEO of TRRAIN, over 500 people have been trained so far by the trust and placed across 40 retailers in Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities in the south. “We get them in customer service associated jobs, as crew members at restaurants, hypermarkets and other retail stores. We take people with more than 40 per cent locomotor disability as they really need support in getting independent,” she says.
Through the Pankh initiative, people have also found jobs at Max, Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop, McDonald’s and KFC. “They need to be 10th or 12th pass depending on the requirement of the retail chain that wants to hire them,” says Ameesha.
Unlike regular employees, attrition rate among the specially-abled working in retail sector is also really low, observes Meera Shenoy, CEO of Youth 4 Jobs. She feels that if properly identified and trained, people with disabilities become really effective alternative labour force who stick longer in their jobs unlike others who easily jump to other retail stores if they are offered a better pay, even if it is just a few hundreds more.
“Despite reservations made by the government, very few actually bag those jobs. There are no market-linked training programs to orient them. Disabled youth have very low self-esteem, especially those from rural areas and tribal communities,” she says.
Shenoy states that there are many reasons why employers are usually wary of hiring disabled people. “These vary from lack of the right skills needed for the field, they look different making other employers and customers uncomfortable among other reasons. These issues have to be tackled by companies through company sensitivity workshops,” she adds.
She also said that customer turnout and repeat customers have been observed to be higher in places which employ the specially-abled. “A KFC outlet in Hyderabad employs disabled people and customers prefer to go there. The same has been observed in petrol bunks employing hearing impaired people,” she says.
As many as 70,000 specially-abled people have been reached out through advocacy programmes by Y4J and 3,600 have been trained of which 75 per cent are now employed. “If trained well, they will fit in anywhere. We also have youths working in jewellery shops and film archiving centres,” Shenoy says.