Stereotypes, poor accessibility key stumbling blocks in greater inclusion of disabled people in the Indian workplace
Less than 0.5% – that’s how pathetically low the representation of persons with disabilities is in some of India’s top companies. The findings are from a Business Standard report that analysed disclosures by listed companies. Despite the law mandating workplace inclusion and sensitisation measures, the gap are huge, say experts.
Diversity and inclusion may be a buzzword in corporate circles, but India Inc. is far from walking the talk when it comes to people with disabilities. The findings of a study done by leading financial newspaper Business Standard show just how disturbingly low the figure is.
According to the article (link given at the end), people with disabilities form less than 0.5% of the workforce in India’s top companies. The exact figure at 0.46% is based on analysis of disclosures by listed companies. Worryingly, the figure has fallen from 0.47% last year.
So, what’s going wrong? Over three years after the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act came into effect, why does the representation of people with disabilities in the corporate sector remain so low?
The reasons, says Gopal Garg, Vice President, Youth4Jobs, which focuses on skilling and placing disabled youth in jobs, are many. “I feel that companies are not preparing themselves well to look at this pool. The CEOs may have the vision but it’s a different story when it comes down to the people actually recruiting”. Many recruiters, says Gopal, don’t even know how to interview a person with disability. “They don’t even offer a seat to someone with clutches and ask questions like ‘Are you disabled from birth’. Would you ask someone who is dark skinned whether they were born with that complexion?”
Another issue that gets raised is the non-availability of a ready talent pool. “My argument to that is that none of the graduates are ready to walk into their roles and start performing either, they need to be trained”, Gopal points out. There is a change in mindset visible here. Over the last year, many companies have become open to reaching out to disabled students in their final year of studies. “They go to universities which have these students and invest in training them”, he adds.
Ratnaprabha Sable, of Vividhataa, an executive search firm that specialises in hiring women, the LGBTQ+ Community and persons with disabilities also suggests that companies take a relook at their approach.
Companies insist that the candidates should know Java and SAP software systems. Now, we are not saying that companies should lower the bar but they can look at training them for these roles. A top corporate approached us recently for a candidate who knew SAP. We had a disabled candidate someone who knew Excel well and we suggested that they could take the person on board and train him on SAP. They were open to the idea. Companies need to be willing to let go of certain set standards and work differently. –
Ratnaprabha Sable, Founder-Director, Vividhataa
Barriers of the mind
When it comes to people with hearing impairments, the challenges are many. “The roles offered to deaf and hard of hearing candidates is usually entry level and that is something we are fighting”, adds Ratnaprabha. Ensuring they get absorbed in better roles with a good entry level salary are serious challenges. “We explain to companies that the nature of their disability means their concentration levels are superior and they will get the job done faster”.
The other barrier is accessibility. Despite technological advances and the fact that the RPWD Act mandates adoption of accessibility standards, not many organisations are willing to put assistive solutions in place. “Some companies have even told us don’t tell us about the compliances in place like accessibility”, says Gopal. “They say we will hire a few people from the sympathy point of view”. Many clients are not open to installing JAWS software which is used extensively by people with visual impairments, adds Ratnaprabha.
For the push to inclusion to happen, there needs to be greater openness and sharing by corporates, believes Dr Niharika Nigam, Head, Quality & Standards, Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD), which is working closely with various stakeholders, including India Inc. towards enabling this.
“Companies in India are opening up to the idea of hiring people with disabilities but they don’t know how to source them”, says Dr Nigam. “Companies that are practising this must share their success stories. Unless they are willing to talk about their experiences, others will not learn and be motivated to make the change”.
Effective inclusion needs a top down approach, believes Ratnaprabha. “This has to become an agenda, not some charity. When employers start recognising that, things will change”. Despite the figures, she believes that thing are looking up. “Recently we had a tech company approach us saying they want to hire over a 100 people with disabilities across India. Setting a target like that certainly helps”. Disability inclusion, believes Gopal, must become a part of the MBA curriculum for real change. “This is what future business leaders and corporate leaders are studying and introducing it at that stage will help change the mindset”.
Read More: Business Standard