This was in Dec 2016 that we in British Telecom in India were hiring differently abled employees for the first time, the target group was people with hearing and speech disability. There was a fair bit of editing that was done on the job description to enable reasonable adjustment of the disability to the job (reasonable accommodation) and the job description was shared with our hiring consultants. In a week’s time we got 12 resumes and after an initial shortlisting process done basis skills and experience, 8 of them were called for a face to face interview. A sign language expert was assigned by the consulting firm to ask questions and interpret responses of the candidates during the panel interview. I remember our 2 member team of hiring managers from finance being fairly nervous about the whole interview, may be more nervous than candidates themselves as for them it was the first time they would sit face to face across a person with speech and hearing impairment, let alone interview them. They were not sure, not sure of how this would be done, would they really be able to make the right selection, would the candidate be able to contribute and be productive. Lots of questions that had been discussed and debated with HR and the consultants. Most questions answered but the doubts still hung high in their mind, almost clouding a rationale thought process.
Finally at 12 noon, the 8 candidates turned up together through the lift up on the 5th floor of DLF building where our office was located, all smiling, all together. They were seated in a round table and served water/tea/coffee. All of us including the office boys, staff around, hiring managers were in a sombre mood, as if feeling sorry for the candidates who had just turned up. The image in our mind was of a person who is sad, dejected, broken yet trying. But we were totally wrong, after a couple of initial round of interviews I went around to check if our group of candidates were comfortable and well taken care of. Observing them from a distance that day is a sight that can never be forgotten, they were the most vibrant group of people in our office that day, chatting using sign language, smiling and laughing, enjoying their coffee and happy with what life had given them. Everyone who passed by would catch the mood, stop by and say hello. And their response was a big sunny smile with energetic wave of hand. Joy was infectious, and it still remains with most of us who were in the panel and in office that day. Joy of life irrespective of where one is in life, there are immense blessings we have that we are grateful for and instead of counting our disability and loss, maybe we can start counting our blessings. There is something to be grateful for today, and every-day! For the candidates, we offered 3 of them and kick started the differently abled hiring practice in the company.
Rights for Persons with Disability: RPwD Act 2016
According to RPwD Act 2016 (Rights for Persons with Disability), there are 21 types of disabilities defined under the Indian Law including Locomotor disability, Leprosy affected, cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack, Visual impairment (blindness, low vision), Hearing impairment (deaf, hard of hearing) and Intellectual disability.
Private Sector organizations are required to abide by the law by taking the following steps: 1. Framing and publishing an Equal Opportunity Policy (EOP) & Register the policy with the Government authorities 2. Modify HR policies and revamp existing hiring practices (in line with EOP) 3. Maintain records related to employees with disabilities 4. Conform with Accessibility Norms, and 5. Prohibit Discrimination on basis of disability.
The Act should be seen in extremely positive light by corporates as it does not impose a quota but encourages enabling policies for equal opportunity. It allows for “reasonable” accommodation to the job profile, internal policies and infrastructure to enable hiring or people with minor or major disabilities. It has very clearly defined approach and guidelines on enabling a truly inclusive workforce and therefore is a great opportunity for corporates to innovate and practice diversity in its true essence.
Link to Performance Management:
Performance Management and Talent Management are almost incomplete without a thought through talent diversity mix and an inclusive workplace. In the fast pace and every changing YUCA world, it is important to have a culture that promotes innovation through diversity of talent, views and thought process. There is also a need to encourage management to question assumptions about what good performance looks like to promote more innovation and risk taking, the courage to propel a diverse group of people towards a common vision of the organization. Diversity initiative around Pwd does not stop with only hiring and assimilation, there is a big piece about managing careers and motivation for such employee. Organizations have to be constantly thinking in this direction and ensure diverse talent is engaged and motivated though their performance and career journey.
The Way Forward:
Having been through the journey of hiring people with hearing and speech impairment, Pwd hiring is not a decision that organizations can take one fine day and start recruitment.
The conversations should start with the leadership team of the organization where in principle and in essence, they discuss and align on the multiple benefits of hiring people who may be in the Pwd category (as defined by Gov of India): apart of helping build inclusion, this builds immense humility and camaraderie in the workforce. Employees hired through this channel are more stable and over a period of time very productive in a well-defined workflow operational profile.
Once the alignment is done with Leadership Team, the next level of discussion ought to be with the hiring managers to make them understand the disability (type) and the changes that they may need to make in the job profile to be able to hire. There are three key aspects of hiring and assimilating people with disability
- Reasonable accommodation with Job: Accommodation with job would be needed to slice the job to ensure disability of the individual does not influence performance in any manner. For eg a person who is hard of hearing called be placed in calling job and therefore aspects of the job that may require sound based interactions may have to be made minimal.
- Sensitization: There is a need to sensitize people managers and immediate team on how to best assimilate people who may need adjustment and support from immediate peer group. There may be a need for special training like sign language for the team members.
- Infrastructure and IT readiness: Employees with orthopaedic, visual or hearing disability may need infrastructure support like wheelchair friendly washrooms, hand rails in common areas, special software support.
Organizations aiming to hire people with disability should define short term and longer term strategy to a seamless growth and assimilation agenda. Having led this journey myself, it is the most fulfilling and humble experience HR and business folks can have and the social impact it create is immense!
Note: the above case study is from British Telecom (BT), India on its journey of hiring people with hearing and speech disability or impairment.