Employing people with disability can help Make in India

It is embarrassing for a country that claims to be on the path to superpowerdom to treat its persons with disability so poorly.

 |  3-minute read |   03-12-2014
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I was at the Indian School of Business Hyderabad earlier this year and fell short of cash. Most people would've visited an ATM and withdrawn the required amount. Being wheelchair bound, this option was eliminated for me as ATMs in India are too high for a wheelchair user to access, and there's no leg room for them to operate. While I eventually found a way to electronically transfer funds, Universal Access would have never put me in this trouble.

A second area where the private sector can contribute - and in turn benefit is by providing employment to Persons with Disability. For this to be successfully implemented, the private sector needs to judge people for what they can do, and not what they cannot.

Pepsi India experimented with using hearing-impaired people for bottle inspection. They were surprised to learn that this experimental lot could concentrate much better detecting foreign bodies in bottles more easily than regular employees. The auto manufacturing industry has also found that people with employees with hearing impairment are better at precision manufacturing, as machine sounds don't disturb them. Perfect examples of how a disadvantage can be turned into an advantage!

With the advent of the BPO sector, rise of corporate banking, and the growing importance of corporate offices, there is a growing need for employees to work in these offices. Their primary skills are - working on computer ERPs and using the phone. Most persons with orthopaedic disabilities would be perfect for such jobs.

It has been found that persons with visual challenges have a great sense of smell. Unlike others, they are not biased towards products due to packaging and other aspects. Their evaluation is free and unbiased, becoming a big asset in the cosmetics industry.

Mirakle couriers, a courier company in Mumbai, realised that courier delivery executives do not need to speak or listen to the end consumer. Thus it made a conscious decision to hire only hearing impaired executives. Today, the firm not only provides employment to one of the most marginalised sections of Indian society but is financially healthy and crossed Rupees twenty five lakhs in turnover in 2013.

Companies have also realised that hiring Persons with Disabilities reduces attrition, as it has been found that they prefer a familiar environment and are thus less likely to change jobs. 15 per cent of Costa Coffee's employees are Persons with Disabilities, Lemon Tree Hotels has a vision for 25 per cent Persons with Disabilities. Disabled today are not just being used for menial back end, but also in positions where they interact with customers. It has been increasingly seen that this increases the personal "human" touch, a USP that money cannot buy.

Census 2011 has revealed that over 21 million people in India are Persons With Disability (PWDs). This is equivalent to 2.1 per cent of the population. However, in India, less than three of PWDs are gainfully employed compared with between one third and one half in the developed world.

Organisations worldwide are never satisfied with two things - the talent pool they have an access to and the market they can capture. While Universal Access will ensure PWDs can use their products and services, it will also make it easier for them to sell to the ever-increasing elderly population. On the other hand, a philosophy of judging people for "what they can do" would ensure access to a totally untapped market.

It is embarrassing for a country that claims to be on the path to superpowerdom to treat its PWDs the way it does. It is easy to blame the government for the state of PWDs in India. I do hope to see India being a true equal opportunity country in my lifetime. However, it is time we realise that helping them is helping ourselves to an uncaptured market and an untapped talent pool. 


Nipun Malhotra Nipun Malhotra @nipunmalhotra

The writer was born with Arthrogryposis (a rare congenital disorder leading to a lack of muscles in arms and legs) due to which he is on a wheelchair. Today, he is an alumnus of St. Stephen's College and the Delhi School of Economics. At St. Stephen's, he was the founder President of the Entrepreneurship Cell and was also rewarded the Anil Wilson Scholarship for Future Leadership Potential. He was awarded the Navratan award 2013 for community work and social service. He is currently pursuing an Executive Masters (MFAB Programme) from the Indian School of Business.

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