Ashwini Walawalkar, Country Head, Technique Control Facility Management (TCFM) in an exclusive interaction with People Matters talked about the factors that led to an employment gap among people with disabilities on International Day of Disabled Persons.
How does prejudice against people with disabilities affect their rates of employment as compared to non-disabled persons? What other factors play a part in creating a gap?
There has always been a significant employment gap between people with disabilities and non-disabled people. We live in a time when everyone is more aware of and compassionate toward people with disabilities (PwDs). However, more than prejudice, it’s more about practicality and reality when it comes to employing PwDs. One of the other issues contributing to the gap is a lack of disclosure of their disabilities, which means a lower reporting rate when it comes to PwD employment. Many of the other contributing factors are structural; improving employment opportunities for PwDs begins with community attitudes and the education system. Further, there is a lack of strong connections between NGOs and other organisations attempting to tackle the scale of the issue and the labour market. It is important to have more robust private-public partnerships to address the gap, and it is also essential for employers to take measured steps towards ensuring everyone has access to a stable and secure working environment.
Do you think remote work culture has helped persons with disabilities find employment as never before?
Work from home (WFH) has definitely empowered and increased opportunities for a spectrum of people, right from PwDs to working mothers and more. When we look at the Facility Management sector today, the widespread use of CAFM (Computer Assisted Facility Management) Operations has helped increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Within our organisation, we have been able to employ many more PwDs thanks to this advancement in technology and currently have up to 5% of PwD employees.
What needs to be done by organisations to ensure an inclusive and accessible workplace?
When it comes to any aspect of work that revolves around transformation and advancement, we require a top-down approach. It needs to start with policymaking and mandates that are driven by the senior leadership and further embraced by the managerial level to make them actionable and achievable. Awareness is key to creating a more inclusive work environment, and it would take considerable effort to ensure that it becomes a top priority, both for visible and invisible disabilities. This can be done through programmes, events, policies, drives, and more. We are also seeing a greater number of job fairs organised for PwD employment opportunities; this is evident that organisations are making more concentrated efforts to bridge the employment gap. Additionally, there are significant efforts that include removing architectural barriers and improving digital accessibility that can go a long way towards promoting an inclusive and accessible work culture.
Empathy or infrastructure: what is more required for people with special needs?
Both! While empathy can initiate change, infrastructure can facilitate it. We have taken the latter very seriously and are currently working on projects that provide the best facilities for PwDs. From rails to ramps, lifts, usage of braille in signages, and stairs, we have made investments towards supporting PwDs, and creating a more accessible environment for our employees to thrive in.