It was a noisy Saturday night at a suburban pub in Mumbai with the revellers singing along with the DJ at the top of their voice. The staff serving the patrons though were indifferent to the music. The only sound they experienced is that of deafening silence.
All the wait-staff at Madeira & Mime are differently-abled (deaf and dumb). They steal the show every day. They are quick, responsive, dedicated, and absolutely prompt in giving you the much-needed drink and food at your table! The menu is spot-on with drawings of basic hand gestures you need to make while placing an order – and if you falter, no problem, you will still get served! They are shadowed by restaurant managers who make sure no one at the place goes unattended. The resto-bar came up after the success of their restaurant ‘Mirchi & Mime’.
Impressed by their professionalism, I happened to research on the subject. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report in 2011 estimated that 15.3% of the world’s population deals with disability of one kind or the other. According to a report in Mint, Census data in India shows that 63.66% of the disabled population is not working compared to 60.21% of the able-bodied. But those working in the field say that employability figures are likely very poor on account of limited resources and difficulties in providing them with skills which could lead to employability. While some among these in the census are students or draw a pension, the majority remain dependent on others.
The power to do the right thing doesn't come from the position you are in, but from the responsibilities, you are willing to do.
While Diversity is a huge word in the HR world now, what is heartening to see is that step-by-step corporates are looking at creating a talent pool with PwDs in focus. But we have a long way to go.
According to the new HR law practice applicable from June 15 2017, all employer organisations need to adopt an 'Equal Opportunity Policy' (EOP) containing details of amenities that will be provided to their differently-abled employees.
Sonal Arora, Vice President, Regulatory Staffing, TeamLease Services said, “While traditionally in India, there was very little attention given to bring the disabled into mainstream workforce, last few years have seen a lot more awareness and focus on this front. Rapid globalization of the Indian economy and entry of many global companies has led to a healthy adoption of some of best practices like being an equal opportunity employer and greater Inclusion of the Disabled in the regular workforce. Moreover, further to the ratification of UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities in 2007 by India; The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 was implemented effectively Dec 2016 across the country. The Act not only prohibits any discrimination but also strongly encourages private sector employers to have at least 5% of their workforce comprised of persons having benchmark disabilities. This has led to lot more awareness and impetus to mainstream employment opportunities for the physically challenged. Not only organizations are offering employment opportunities to the physically challenged but working on their inclusion into the work environment by way of training facilities, assistive devices, barrier-free accessibility, special leave, flexi timing etc. Currently, though this practice is being followed primary with in large or top rung organization and there is a need for lot more private sector employers to adopt this; given that India has nearly 15 million disabled in the age group of 20 to 59. This is critical to help them lead a life of dignity.”
Hinduja Global Solutions, a leading business process management solutions provider in India, has been consistent in their endeavours to help augment the economic stability of the PwD community. Avesh Kumar Jha, Senior Vice President – OD & PM, HGS said, “This year, the theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (PwDs) is “transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all” or to “leave no one behind”. This is a clear indication that we should not treat anyone differently and tap in including talent from diverse backgrounds into our workforce. As part of our corporate Diversity and Inclusion initiative, we ensure that recruitment of PwDs in the employee pool is treated as a regular feature and that they do not face any discrimination at their workforce."
Currently, at HGS, there are around 273 employees with disabilities under 5 out of 21 categories of classified disabilities. These employees are given special attention to get trained on the operational processes and are provided with the right technology and infrastructure to work comfortably in their roles. For example, HGS is using NVDA Screen Reader technology for visually challenged employees that enable them to use computers by reading text on the screen assisted by a computerized voice. This is in addition to sensitizing the workforce to be respectful towards these employees rather than being sympathetic and showing supporting by making them part of a normal work life.
"We have also incorporated infrastructure changes such as separate parking space, specially designed washrooms, wheelchairs at the entrance, life access to all floors, etc. within our offices present 14 cities in India. HGS also collaborated with NASSCOM Foundation recently to launch a training center in our facility in the NCR region to help PwDs get trained for jobs and make them industry ready. HGS is an inclusive organization and is committed to including all kinds of employees in its current workforce, thus making it a truly diverse organization,” said Jha.
At Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India, there is a structured policy of hiring differently-abled people, depending upon the size of the resort and its operations. Nearly 60 differently-abled employees are working across resorts as front-office operators, spa therapists, electricians and plumbers, gardeners, kitchen staff and housekeeping staff as of March 31st 2017. One of the resorts has employed 4 deaf and mute employees. One of them is Anwar, a hockey player and a Para Olympic Champion (Athletics) who has won several medals. Mahindra Holidays provide extensive on-the-job training to all employees. However, special programmes are run for the differently abled resources as it is difficult to find resources trained in hospitality skills in this segment. Training programs for the differently abled employees are typically of longer duration and include a blend of classroom sessions run in regional languages and practical training sessions aimed at developing functional knowledge and skills. Visual depiction of “Standard Operating Procedures” helps them overcome language & listening challenges.
Prashant Khullar, Chief Human Resource Officer, Mahindra Holidays, stated, "At Mahindra Holidays, we strongly believe in inclusion and diversity. We have a structured hiring policy that enables us to recruit and retain the best talent, including specially-abled people. We conduct specially designed training programmes for such employees to enable them to develop the requisite hospitality skill sets. Sometimes, differently-abled people also need extra support during the learning sessions. At Mahindra Holidays, all such employees are assigned dedicated mentors to help them through their learning process. They are also made an integral part of monthly connect sessions with resort leadership to keep the engagement levels high and address additional requirements.”
Many IT firms have pledged to include disabled people as part of their workforce. Certain business process management (BPM) companies have about 1 per cent disabled persons on their rolls, while others are looking at disability inclusion for the first time. Companies such as Capgemini, Aegis, MPhasis and IBM also train people with disabilities.
Anshul Prakash, Partner, Khaitan & Co - one of the oldest and largest Indian law firms, said, "While government organisations have various statutory obligations under The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 (“PD Act”), the government has so far relied on self-regulation as far as private organizations are concerned. The legislative mandate under the PD Act aims at addressing disability-based discrimination of employees. While the PD Act requires affirmative action towards employment of disabled people in the government / public sector, it also requires state governments to incentivise private organizations towards ensuring an inclusive workforce, with equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The PD Act is in consonance with India’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international treaty where members countries have come together to work towards alleviating the rights of the disabled people. It does require private sector organizations to have an equal opportunity policy for inclusion of physically challenged persons but there remains an ambiguity in respect of the contents of such policy and the extent of its implementation and enforceability in the private sector. Several multinational corporations in India have emulated their global policies to cover their establishments here but the same cannot be said for privately owned domestic enterprises. While the PD Act, is a distinct step in the right direction, its implementation remains to be seen, given that it requires a coordinated effort on part of the central, state and the local authorities as well as the private sector.”
While we have a long way to go, what we need is empathy to understand the needs of different people – the ability to understand and incorporate PwDs at workplaces not only will remove the stigma which is attached with them, but also create a world which we will be proud to live in.
As for the time at Madeira & Mime, I happened to have a quick dance with one of the staffers. Who said, music is only for people who can listen?