The country has witnessed an overall progress in the last few decades and opened the gates of employment opportunities for millions of people. But the employment opportunities for the physically disabled in India have really not taken off as one would expect it to be.
India has progressed in many areas. Various sectors have witnessed a stupendous growth. If an employer offers jobs to the physically challenged, the government will reimburse the employer’s contribution for the first three years of the Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance.” This is a new initiative taken by the Government of India towards encouraging the Indian corporate houses to nurture employment opportunities for physically challenged persons. The salary limit has been set at Rs.25,000 per month.
The Government hopes to create some one lakh jobs for the physically challenged and has allocated a budget of Rs.1,800 crore for the employment of disabled people. In 1995 though the government came out with the Persons of Disabilities Act, which insisted on equal opportunity for the physically challenged, little had been done to ensure the spirit of the act. Again in 1977, the government passed out a resolution to reserve 3% of jobs for the physically challenged. But unfortunately the reservation was applicable only in the unskilled jobs sector. Thankfully the Government has now come out more vociferously on the issue thereby explicitly encouraging the organized sector to employ the country’s disabled, which will allowed handicapped person to apply for senior posts in the bureaucracy.
But on the other hand employment data for India’s disabled tells a grim story. The rate of employment of the physically challenged is abysmally low at 0.05% among MNCs, 0.2% in the private sector and 0.5% in the public sector. National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has been fighting to get the physically challenged included in the National Sample Survey, a collection of socio-economic statistics used to formulate public policy. Last year, the CII came out with a Corporate Code on Disability Policy for members to agree on committing 1% of jobs to the disabled. Only about 50 members have committed to meet the target.
Recently Tata Consultancy Services in association with CII conducted the study on, ‘Employability of Differently-abled Persons In Industries in Eastern India’. The result of the study is not only disappointing and it highlights the callous attitude of India Inc. The study revealed that only 36 per cent of the IT and ITeS companies surveyed have recruited people who are physically challenged, while the rest are still in the process of doing their bit.
It is estimated that 6% of India’s population is physically challenged. Taking into account of our huge population, which we boast is the second highest in the world; it should not be treated as a negligible percentage. Six percent of one billion is a huge number of people which no Government can afford to ignore. On the contrary the total number of placements for disabled people in government and public sector companies through special employment exchanges is just about 3,000 per year.
“Our country though on a massive drive towards economic growth, has not come to a stage where equitable employment is generated for the disabled. As we progress towards becoming a developed nation, we cannot afford to leave this equally productive 6% (disabled) workforce behind, says Sachin Verma, Co Founder, AccessAbility, a Delhi based employment specialists for the disabled.
“Though companies are spending huge money on community development activities, I am surprised why they are hesitant to touch the issue of disability,” asks Jayashree Ravindran, Executive Director & Founder, Ability Foundation, a Chennai based NGO focusing on integrating people with disability with the main stream without caste, creed or religion.
The fact remains that the majority of the companies do not have a proper guideline in place for employing physically challenged people. When major organizations are still skeptic about absorbing physically challenged people in their workforce, smaller organizations like Lasersoft Infosystems Pvt. Ltd. are showing the way.
“Our humane approach draws us towards physically challenged and makes us unique. Over all we are compassionate about the physically challenged and the needy”,says S S Rao, Vice President-HR, Lasersoft Infosystems Pvt. Ltd. Nearly twenty percent Lasersoft’s employees, out of the total 550, are physically challenged. The company has been credited with the Best Employer Award by the government of India for the service towards people with disabilities and ‘NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller’ award for providing equal rights and gainful employment to persons with disabilities.
Providing a level playing field
Jayashree Ravindran is vociferous when it comes to employment opportunities for the physically challenged. “We are not looking at the issue of CSR. We want the corporate to offer a level playing field for the disabled” asserts Jayasree. “We are not demanding the corporates to offer a telephone operator job to a hearing impaired person. Likewise we are not insisting on a software programming job to a blind person. But still there are other areas where a hearing impaired or a blind person can be fit in,” argues Jayasree. There is a ‘scare of the unknown’ syndrome prevailing in the corporate scene when it comes to employing the physically challenged, points out Sachin. He further adds that in the absence of any legal frame work in the country which makes it mandatory to employ some disabled workforce, the choice is mostly voluntary.
“We do not discriminate the physically challenged on any grounds. There are several physically challenged people who have scaled great heights in their career in this company. We have many product managers in our fold. We support them to meet the challenges in life and emerge successful asserts S S Rao. The company also sends the physically challenged employees to their customer sites to cities outside Chennai and overseas also. “Wherever we find aspirations we motivate them further”, adds S S Rao.
According to Sachin, sensitizing the top management of the organizations as well as the human resources persons to be open to recruiting disabled persons and not do it simply for a cause but because of the merits they hold, would bring in more employment opportunities for the physically challenged
Besides, there exists mismatches between training and requirements, the industry demands have changed over the years. But the training imparted by NGOs to ascertain the employability of physically challenged people is not in tune with the skill sets required by corporate houses.
Says Jayasree, “We know our role is important because we act as bridge between the employers and the physically challenged. Ability foundation has a data base of the physically challenged candidates from sub-staffs up to the highly qualified rank holders. Ability foundation screens the candidate thoroughly and depending on the suitability offers them an intensive six months training on various fields such as personality development, teaching, English language skills, secretarial practices etc.
We provide help in many ways right from guiding them to approach proper government bodies and taking care of their needs.” S S Rao, sums it up aptly. “The companies should realize that it is only a win win situation for both. The physically challenged people are benefited with a career, a job with a respect and the companies are benefited with their performance. They differently-abled people extremely performing well. Their commitment, loyalty and the learning attitude is astounding. They are in no way inferior to normal people”.
What needs to be done
Pointing out the newspaper reports that we see regularly highlighting the shortage in manpower in so many sectors, Sachin, suggests identifying the disabled individuals and helping them set up micro units on the basis of the available skills amongst the disabled. Companies have already realized a need and are willing to contribute towards this end. The prime indicator to this trend is “EmpolyAbility”, the annual job fair organized by Ability Foundation. “Since 2004, participation by both the companies and candidates are increasing steadily. It is encouraging but lot more needs to be done”, says Jayashree Ravindran.
It is time that the Government of India formulates more viable strategies that offers better employment opportunities for the physically challenged. One such initiative is to strictly adhere to “accessibility norms” that ensures the infrastructure of the organization is disabled friendly. On the other hand corporate India should also realize that it is only the physical movements that are limited in the physically challenged people, but truly they have the potential to move up in life. Finally it is the humane approach towards physically challenged that must be manifested in the minds of the every citizen of India.