Experts Interview by Ms.Nimisha Jashnani
1. Please tell us about some of the good work in disability inclusion space that you have been doing as a consultant.
I am a diversity and inclusion consultant working with corporates and academic institutions for creating an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities. My work involves identifying infrastructural, attitudinal and systemic barriers at workplaces and educational institutions and providing inputs on addressing these barriers. The services include conducting awareness sessions for various stakeholders and audits of policies, processes and infrastructure.
I started my journey in disability inclusion space as a Coordinator for the Office of Disability Services at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) in 2011. IIMB was the first of the IIMs and amongst the very few of educational institutes in India to set up an equal opportunity policy for students with disabilities. Being the first coordinator of ODS at IIMB, I was responsible forproviding accessible and inclusive education environment to students with disabilities. Our effort to create an inclusive environment at IIMB lead us to win the NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award in 2012.
Later, I worked with Capgemini India, leading their inclusion program for people with disabilities providing accessible workplace and non-discriminatory work environment to people with disabilities, creating internal and external awareness through sensitization programs, conducting disability etiquette trainings, partnering with NGOs for collaborative training programs forskill development and evangelizing inclusion through industry and customer connect. I was instrumental in Capgemini winning the 15th NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Award 2013- Role Model Companies and receiving an honorable mention in United Nations ESCAP-Sasakawa Award for Disability-Inclusive Business in Asia and the Pacific in 2013.
Till recently, I was associated with Diversity and Equal Opportunity Center (DEOC) for providing consulting services to corporates, government, NGOs and industry bodies on inclusive policies, accessible built-in environment, accessible IT services and conducting sensitization workshops for various stakeholders.
2. Please share with us your views about disability, and the ecosystem in our country (Government, corporate policies)
People with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable sections of the society. According to the Census of 2011, in India 2.21% or 26.8 million people live with a disability. While the Government of India has taken steps to address the rights of persons with disabilities, they continue to be one of the most marginalised population groups in the country. For instance, only 55% of persons with disabilities are literate, and only 36% of the persons with disabilities are workers. Further, gender, economic status, social groups and disability create multiple layers of discrimination.
Government of India has taken several legislative and policy interventions to bring persons with disabilities into the mainstream. India was one of the first countries to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It was also one of the first countries to have enacted a domestic legislation – the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, aligned with the letter and spirit of the CRPD.
However, there is a need to create sustainable programmes promoting education, skill development, employment, and poverty reduction. Private sector can play a key role here by creating inclusive development programmes for people with disabilities. The inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream society as leaders, employees, suppliers and consumers not only empowers people with disabilities but also makes business sense.
3. How do you see opportunities for Disabled in the country and what measures can be taken to enhance sustainable careers.
The RPWD Act 2016 provides protection to all people with disabilities against discrimination and promotes equal opportunity and accessibility, thus bringing a mindset shift from a ‘charity-based approach’ to a ‘social model’. All establishments - government, private and NGOs - are covered under the Act and there are specific mandates for these to comply with. Suitable penalties and punishments have been set down in the Act for individuals/organisations for non-compliance and violation of the law.
A stricter implementation of the law will bring in accountability from all sectors creating not only opportunities for education and employment but also for effective participation in society.
Persons with disabilities form a large customer base and lack of accessibility restricts their choice of products and services. In addition, if we add their family and friends, a group which persons with disabilities can influence in terms of purchase decision, the opportunity is massive. It is too large a market segment to be ignored.
4. Please tell us about the services and equipment that can help disabled children lead normal life.
Technology has significantly reduced the accessibility barriers faced by persons with various disabilities. Information and services are easily available on our mobile phones in accessible formats. In addition, there is a vast gamut of assistive technology available in the market to support people with disabilities. This has opened plethora of avenues for persons with disabilities for employment and education.
For example, screen reader softwares, OCR readers, Daisy books, magnifiers are available for persons with vision disabilities.
5. What role do you think is getmeenabled.com online store playing in the space of accessibility.
The assistive technology market in India is scattered and informal. There is a dearth of information and there are hardly any organised players which can address this customer segment.
Getmeenabled here organises the market for assistive aids and connects the vendors to the buyers. As an online marketplace, it would be easy to access and allows the customers to explore various options suited to their needs. It could serve as a feedback channel for the product vendors to understand what the customer wants and do product improvements. It would also createan opportunity for innovation in the Indian market as there is a high dependency on foreign assistive aids where a cheaper alternate technology is not available in the Indian market.