“Disability sector has a scarcity mindset, no one community is more important than the other” – V R Ferose, Founder, India Inclusion Summit
Senior Vice President and Head, SAP Engineering Academy, V R Ferose is dedicated to making the world a better place for people with disabilities. As founder of the India Inclusion Summit (IIS), a platform for the disabled community, he has helped build awareness about rights as well as bring various stakeholders together. In an interview to NewzHook, Ferose, who was in Bengaluru for the seventh edition of the IIS, talks about what he believes is needed to scale the disability rights movement.
NewzHook: We are speaking to you at the SAP Labs Headquarters, the very place where you started the Autism at Work eight years ago, the groundbreaking programme that aims to integrate people with autism in the workforce. What are the changes you see in the Indian scenario since then?
V R Ferose: As a matter of fact, we are in the same room where the idea began! I will tell you one thing that is interesting, which is that human beings are very quick at stereotyping. That may be because we are incredibly lazy – we see what works and we stereotype. When we started the programme the first four people were doing testing jobs, so everybody said autistic people can only do testing. That’s a flawed way to look at it because people want what is easy and can be easily copied.
At SAP Labs what is different is that today we have between 160-175 people with autism in 29 different roles. We have broken the stereotype and that’s a massive leap of faith. If this can work in the tech world it can work anywhere. People with autism are like any other neurotypical person. Its just that its harder to find what they are good at.
NH: There are a growing number of people who want to push change at the workplace but don’t know how to.
Ferose: Any large scale change it happens when you walk the talk. Leaders walk the talk. I cannot ask everyone else to hire autistic people and not do it myself. Gandhian principles work everywhere. Once you do it and prove it, you have the credibility. I have a personal story that led me to this, but not everybody needs one. The people who work on the Autism at Work don’t have a personal story, but they saw the purity of purpose and got inspired.
NH: What are the biggest hurdles that are coming in the way of scaling this programme?
Ferose: – One hurdle that is absolutely clear is that of supply. There are no people available and corporates will not want to do it just for the numbers. Unless we fix the education system, it won’t happen. So, we have to start with education. Like we started Project Prayas where people got trained for SAP. If you do a piecemeal thing, it won’t happen.
The second hurdle is that people are looking for quick success. This is not a short-term thing but a long term one. Autistic people will not be as productive as a neuro typical person and not everyone is willing to make an adjustment. The entire system is biased towards short term gains. It took 18 months for me to get to the point where I could prove the first four guys hired at SAP were good. Most corporates are not willing.
NH: Is the invisibility of the community a barrier to creating awareness as well?
Ferose: That’s why we have the India Inclusion Summit. It’s all about building awareness. Here we are sitting in Bengaluru talking about this but the eco system here is very different from say Delhi. My mission is that by 2030 the entire country is up in arms and fully sensitised. It’s not about me alone but everyone pushing awareness.
The other problem is the lack of a holistic approach. The disability sector has a scarcity mindset where each community has to succeed at another’s cost. No disability is more or less important than the other.
For magic to happen, everyone has to get connected.