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International Day Of Persons With Disabilities: Empowering Abilities In Indian Workspaces

Creating an inclusive workplace for persons with disabilities demands concerted efforts across all facets of an organisation. In the context of PWDs in India, it's about crafting strategies that resonate with their challenges, creating not just a diverse workplace but a thriving community where everyone finds their place and purpose

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As the world celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd, it is imperative to delve into the nuances of fostering inclusivity for this community in the professional realm, particularly in the Indian context. The landscape of inclusivity has seen positive shifts globally, but there is still much ground to cover, especially in a country as diverse as India.

Promoting Inclusivity in the Hiring Process

Ensuring equal opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs) begins at the hiring stage. According to the 'India Inclusion Summit 2022 Report,' a staggering 71 per cent of PWDs face discrimination during the recruitment process. Organisations must actively combat this by implementing inclusive hiring practices.

“People come from varied backgrounds and circumstances and possess different abilities. Therefore, introducing guardrails that allow for exceptional experiences for diverse candidates should start from the recruitment process itself. This can be done in ways ranging from rigorous sensitisation for inclusive hiring, spectrum analyses to assess candidate strengths, inclusive language in job descriptions, and finally to pre-onboarding adjustments like quiet spaces, assistive technology and flexible working arrangements,” highlights Jaya Virwani, EY GDS Global Ethics and DE&I Leader. 

Another effective strategy is to establish partnerships with disability-focused job portals and NGOs. Portals like 'Enable Jobs' and 'Jobability' specialise in connecting PWDs with employers actively seeking diverse talent. Collaborations with such platforms can significantly expand the talent pool for organisations.

“The diversity within the 1.3 billion-strong global disability community represents 16% of the world's population. Fostering the growth and inclusion of this substantial demographic is a shared responsibility and a strategic advantage for forward-looking companies. As leaders, we can achieve this by cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace, celebrating differences as inherent strengths, and recognizing the unique capabilities that individuals bring to our teams,” says Kami Viswanathan, President - Middle East, Indian subcontinent & Africa, FedEx.

Furthermore, companies need to sensitise their HR teams. Conducting regular training sessions on disability etiquette, understanding various disabilities and debunking myths can create a more informed and inclusive hiring environment.

Creating an Accessible Workplace

Physical accessibility is a cornerstone of an inclusive workplace. The 'Accessible India Campaign' launched by the government emphasises creating universally accessible physical environments. However, a survey by the 'National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)' reveals that a staggering 74 per cent of Indian companies are non-compliant with accessibility norms.

“The translation of the term inclusion into action on the ground continues to be one of the primary opportunity areas. HR managers are accountable for taking proactive steps for employees with disabilities. The biggest opportunity for India Inc. continues to be the ability to progress in understanding the potential business imperative of engaging with PwDs and communicating across the organization. Preparing the ecosystem with imperatives such as infrastructure readiness, degrees of reasonable accommodation, and investment in AT (assistive technologies) are suggested actions for bridging gaps from an infrastructure and readiness standpoint,” shares Smriti Mathur, Senior Director & Head of People, Pega India

Organisations need to conduct thorough accessibility audits of their premises, identifying and rectifying barriers. This not only complies with legal requirements but also enhances the overall work environment.

“The essence lies in prioritizing three critical areas: providing equal employment opportunities that harness their full potential and value their unique perspectives; creating an accessible workplace beyond ergonomic adjustments to involve cultivating open communication channels; and encouraging collaboration among team members, regardless of disabilities, through sensitizing team members, resource development, and establishing best practices for effective interactions. This commitment ensures that all individual's strengths contribute to a thriving and inclusive organizational culture, yielding a competitive advantage,” adds Viswanathan

Investing in assistive technologies is equally crucial. From screen readers for visually impaired employees to ergonomic workstations for those with mobility issues, embracing technology fosters an inclusive workspace.

Ensuring Equal Career Progression

Career progression for PWDs is often hindered by stereotypes and misconceptions. The 'Global Economics of Disability' report indicates that only 34 per cent of working-age PWDs are employed globally. In India, the situation is even more challenging, with just 22.4 per cent of PWDs being part of the workforce.

“The changing times demand organisations and industries to draw parallels with the journey of gender inclusion and create focus tracks to drive equal growth opportunities for employees with disabilities. For leaders, it isn’t just about making sure offices are accessible, it’s about knowing what is important to the employees and designing experiences that they not only need, but want, and as a result, enabling them to not just work but to thrive. Built on the idea of adaptability, specialized training and skill development can be another option to ensure job enrichment and career progression,” adds Mathur

Leadership must champion equal opportunities. Organisations should establish mentorship programmes specifically designed for PWDs, providing guidance on career growth and skill development. Additionally, performance appraisal systems should be tailored to recognise and reward the unique contributions of employees with disabilities.

“Inclusiveness is a habit that needs to be cultivated and nurtured throughout the employee lifecycle. Post hiring, maintaining equitable opportunities is vital, and this is achieved through regularly auditing workplace accessibility, endorsing flexible working, and fostering safe spaces like check-ins or buddy networks,” shares Virwani

Addressing Mental Health Inclusivity

While physical disabilities often take the spotlight, mental health inclusivity is equally critical. The 'National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16' reveals that approximately 150 million Indians are in need of mental health care services. Creating a supportive environment is paramount.

Companies can implement Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that provide counseling services and mental health resources. Conducting mental health awareness campaigns and sensitisation workshops helps destigmatise the issue and encourages employees to seek support.

Leveraging ERGs for Impactful Change

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) serve as powerful platforms for driving inclusivity. In India, the 'Mindtree Abilities' ERG is an exemplary initiative fostering a disability-inclusive workplace. These groups act as advocates, ensuring that the voices of PWDs are heard at all organisational levels.

To leverage ERGs effectively, companies should provide them with the necessary resources and executive support. Establishing a direct channel between ERGs and leadership ensures that insights from PWD employees contribute to shaping policies that genuinely address their needs.

Creating an inclusive workplace for persons with disabilities demands concerted efforts across all facets of an organisation. By understanding the specific challenges faced by PWDs in India and tailoring strategies to address these challenges, companies can not only comply with legal requirements but also foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion that benefits everyone.

“Over the last decade, India has adopted a host of measures for people with disabilities along with schemes and laws. Assessing their effectiveness is a complex task, and outcomes may vary across different regions and working communities. The government should make sure that these initiatives are flexible and adaptable due to emerging issues and changing circumstances. Regular evaluations, transparency, and a commitment to addressing shortcomings are essential for ensuring that government initiatives genuinely meet the needs of the employees they aim to serve,” highlights Mathur

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 replaced the 1995 Act, aiming to ensure reasonable accommodations in various aspects of social life. This encompasses educational institutions, commercial establishments, public buildings and transport systems, eliminating discrimination and fostering an inclusive environment at the grassroots level. The Disabilities Act emphasises equal access, dignity and respect for people with disabilities.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, lets commit to breaking down barriers and building a workplace where every individual, regardless of ability, can thrive.



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