KOCHI: Despite the modified Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, the complete inclusion of people living with the condition in the social fabric remains an aspirational goal. While there is increased awareness, the progress on a practical scale has been both untenable and limited. Social stigma and economic disparities play a big role in emphasising the feeling of helplessness experienced by the physically challenged, adding to their low esteem.
Admittedly, rigid attitudes and economic disparities cannot be erased in a hurry; but ensuring income adequacy could ease some of the pain points and amplify a sense of self-worth among them. Around 50 per cent of the country’s physically challenged people are in the employable age of 20-50 years. Though the government offers them 3% job reservation, a lot more needs to be done.
To cite an example, it was encouraging to hear that a reputed logistics company in the country was proactively recruiting deaf and dumb candidates. However, a conversation with the local HR person blew the lid off their ‘inclusion’ charade. “We are looking to increase the number of deaf & dumb workers because they work without getting distracted and even better, they cannot complain or ask for a salary raise!” said the executive.
Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the recruitment was just a ‘project’ done by third-party private vendors. To make things worse, this company with an annual turnover of over `27 crore did not invest in a single sensitisation programme, job audits or have a single sign language expert on their payroll.
Fortunately, there are several good examples among employers. Companies like Accenture India, Capgemini, Lemon Tree Hotels, Big Basket and the Tata Group of Industries proactively employ people with disabilities. A more recent player like the Big Basket is keen to have 7% physically challenged members in its staff portfolio, and have trained some of its staff in sign language. It also has a specially designed buddy support schemes to make the integration of such candidates into the system easier.
There are two important factors to be considered here— addressing attitudinal barriers and the proactive role of a company’s chief. Confronting traditional perceptions about physically challenged people is vital to break attitudinal barriers, which in turn will be able to initiate change in other areas.The writer is the General Manager at DRF Communications. The views and opinions shared are entirely her own