Lockdown challenges an opportunity to innovate, say these organisations employing disabled people
The extended lockdown due to Covid-19 has brought unexpected challenges for companies. But these challenges could also throw up the possibility of new opportunities for India’s disabled workforce. We spoke to a few organisations skilling/employing people with disabilities to find out how.
For Richa Bansal, Founder-CEO, Saarathee, a customer contact centre employing people with disabilities, the lockdown offered the perfect moment to formalise a concept she had been working on.
“We wanted to experiment with the concept of work from home with people who were challenged yet skilled – but could not move locations”, says Richa. The company started with five professionals in May 2019 for a period of three months. Soon it was giving its counsellors the option as and when needed. “So, when the pandemic hit, it wasn’t difficult for to migrate 100% of our workforce to work from home”, she says.
Challenges of working virtually
Today Saarathee runs morning meetings, weekly reviews as well as Fun Friday evenings all virtually. Currently there’s a team of 25 people working from home and this may be scaled up to as many as 100 by 2021.
There are some challenges that come with working virtually. A key one being maintaining emotional connect. Saarathee has mentors attached to every employee and there are Zoom meetings where people talk freely about the pains of working from home.
This is accompanied with regular trainings, so employees stay up to date. Among the organisations doing these trainings for Saarathee is LOGOS Transformation, which also offers a platform for disabled people to enhance their writing skills and find job opportunities.
“Since inception our team members work from home across five locations in India, so the lockdown hasn’t been a major disruptor for us”, says Annie Theodore, Co-founder & Director, LOGOS Transformation. The impact though is being felt in other ways. “We realised the lasting psychological impact, so we increased our personal engagement. We have scaled these up through personal calls, messages or online connects.”
Time to step up the learning
Lockdown Time at LOGOS Transformation is being used as Learning Time, adds Co-founder, Samson Theodore. “We have started a weekend Knowledge Series where team members come forward to lead the sessions with best practice sharing, knowledge impartation, and interactive sessions”.
The work from home has not been that’s seamless for all.
“We were not structured to work digitally from home”, says P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh, the Chennai-based impact enterprise that skills and places people with disabilities and from economically marginalised backgrounds. “We told our employees we had to transform and not get bogged down saying we are not so productive”. Tech interfaces like Microsoft Teams have come in useful to improve digital productivity.
While working from home brings out the productive best in many, there are others who do better at the workplace. To keep the overall morale high, games, puzzles and non-Covid related discussions are encouraged. “This way we stay connected and boost each other”, says Rajashekharan. “The point is that everyone has to cope in their own way without having to benchmark against each other”.
New opportunities for disabled people
No doubt the pandemic has caused a setback in terms of business opportunities, but it will open more doors for India’s disabled workforce, say these organisations. Accommodations like flexitime and work from home, which were typically rejected earlier, could see more acceptance in a post-Covid world.
Priti Rohra, Chief Accessibility Officer, BarrierBreak, the accessibility consulting firm headquartered in Mumbai, sees a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s a wonderful opportunity for persons with disabilities that Covid-19 has opened up! Companies now don’t need to worry about physical infrastructure barriers and would welcome disabled candidates in their teams. This also means that the need for digital accessibility will increase even further and open up opportunities for people with disabilities in that area as well! The key here for a person with disability will be to communicate what they can do and how. They should not shy away from communicating their needs. – Priti Rohra, Chief Accessibility Officer, BarrierBreak Solutions Pvt. Ltd
Key to enabling this is a superior digital infrastructure, adds Rajashekharan. “There are plenty of opportunities for getting an equal share ahead and this will also hopefully lead to a better digital infrastructure that can create the space to service more people.”
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