Champions of inclusiveness at workplace get recognition

Champions of inclusiveness at workplace get recognition

Three of the 12 winners of the 20th National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People-Mindtree Helen Keller Awards are from Mumbai. The winners have been recognised for being active as ambassadors of employment for people with disability and role models for others. As they gear up to go to Delhi to receive the award on December 2, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, they talk about their work and challenges

Safety in public spaces

Class X is a crucial milestone for students, the first step towards a career and a secure future.

It was at this stage in life that Vineet Saraiwala was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that causes loss of vision due to a breakdown or loss of retina cells.

The disorder did not break him. Mr. Saraiwala, along with his brother Anuj, who has the same condition, got into the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bengaluru, for a postgraduate course. While his younger brother pursued investment banking, Mr. Saraiwala made a mark for himself in the retail industry.

Using his experience as an inspiration, he has introduced and executed the concepts of accessibility and inclusivity in shopping, and leads the training, sensitisation and hiring of persons with disabilities at Big Bazaar.

That is not all. A seasoned runner, he has five marathons to his credit. “My fifth marathon was a 21-km run in Leh,” said Mr. Saraiwala.

He believes the government needs to step up and sensitise people about the safety of not only the disabled but also senior citizens and minors. “In a city like Mumbai where the Metro construction covers half of the road, it is imperative for the government to provide a safe passage for pedestrians. So that people like us can independently commute,” he said.

Inclusive infrastructure

When Sriram Parthasarthee was two, he was diagnosed with a squint and deteriorating vision. “Though my vision started deteriorating, I never applied for a disability quota in school and my mother was the reason for that. She made voice recordings of my curriculum and I studied listening to it,” said the 32-year-old, who now works with Microsoft India in the social media space.

Mr. Parthasarthee’s Twitter profile reads: ‘Blind by sight, not by vision.’ He works for accessibility for all Microsoft India websites, social media content and video assets. He also commutes to work by train every day.

If an idea or a campaign is not made accessible to all, he said, it can never be successful. “As the government continues to build newer infrastructure, I would like to see consistency and attention to accessibility at the time of planning itself, so that the infrastructure is inclusive by design,” said Mr. Parthasarthee.

‘A safe space’

Aditi’s Corner, a tiny cafe in Belapur’s Bhoomi Mall, is run by the enthusiastic Aditi Verma. That she has Down Syndrome did not hold her back from pursuing her love for cooking. It started with a coffee and tea-vending machine. Today, she has two employees and gets around 40 orders in a day. “She does everything from keeping accounts and buying groceries to making Maggi for customers. She welcomes customers at the reception with a smile,” said her mother, Reena Verma.

Ms. Verma said her daughter has been elected as president from Navi Mumbai for the Self-Advocates Forum of India for being an inspiration for others to overcome their disabilities to achieve their dreams. She also recalled how her daughter was bullied by other students in school. “One day, when I went to pick her up from school, I saw her hiding under a table and crying. We decided to consult a doctor who recommended a special school for her. There, she thrived, participated in everything and developed a keen interest in dance and cooking,” said Ms. Verma

The daughter said she has come a long way as a woman entrepreneur. “After opening my cafe, I believe with the support of my family and my hard work, I can achieve anything. I want my cafe to be a safe corner for children like me who are differently abled.”

What the award-winners are voicing is more than the lip-service that organisations and society are prone to provide to the cause of inclusiveness.

Arman Ali, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, said while organisations are hiring people with disabilities, there is little understanding of the Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and reasonable accommodation. “There needs to be a major shift in perceptions about disability for the work place to be inclusive, and this should not just be limited to metros.”

 Source : The Hindu

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