Volume 2 Issue 14 - July 15, 2004

Altering lives the Family of Disabled way

Rajinder Johar is the founder and chief executive of Family of Disabled (FOD). He was a senior occupational therapist when, in 1986, an injury to his spinal chord rendered him quadriplegic. He set up FOD in order to continue serving the disabled community. Confined to his bed and totally dependent on others, he manages the organisation from his room. He helps entrepreneurs with a variety of disabilities set up and run their own businesses. Here he writes about the issue of self-employment for disabled people.

Take a look at this profile of a job-seeker:

  • Name: XYZ
  • Age: Between 18-60 years
  • Address: A dwelling in some nondescript habitat
  • Economic status: Below poverty line
  • Qualification: Illiterate/semiliterate
  • Skills: Not any that can be used profitably
  • Doctor’s report: Disabled person (may be physically or mentally challenged; visually or hearing and speech impaired; leprosy cured)
  • Favourite past time: Looking for employment
  • Job opportunities available: NIL

More than 90% of the disabled population falls under this category. For such an individual the likelihood of securing a job – in either the public or private sector – is nil. Even 23-odd special employment exchanges for the disabled persons and 55 special cells in the country do not ensure them any kind of help. They have no place to look for their sustenance.

Employers tend to consider such applicants more of a liability than an asset. They are left with no option but to [suffer this] plight. Unemployment, combined with penury and disability, break them from inside. Though they have the urge to earn their own living, they do not know where to go and whom to ask.

But Family Of Disabled (FOD) has tried to find a solution to the pecuniary needs of such individuals through Apna Rozgaar (self-employment). Under its Apna Rozgaar Scheme (ARS), FOD assists them in socio-economic rehabilitation. Individuals are initiated into a trade of their choice, keeping their capabilities in view. They are financially assisted and counselled by the organisation. At present, it is perhaps the only scheme of its kind in Delhi. We are not aware if any other organisation is providing fiscal assistance to disabled people at this micro level.

The idea of ARS came about in 1993. Jitender Kumar, a gunshot victim of Punjab terrorism with deformed hand, was referred to FOD from Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital for socio-economic rehabilitation. Till then he had been selling boiled eggs, peanuts, etc. His income, too, was peanuts.

Self-employment seemed to be the only feasible alternative for him, as it is for many other disabled people who fall in the same category.

FOD, in its nascent stage at that time, decided to grab the bull by its horns. Rs 2,500 was raised by Surinder Johar, who was working with Engineers India Ltd, from his colleagues. The amount collected was used to buy merchandise comprising soft drinks, confectioneries, snacks, tobacco products, etc, for Jitender who by then had acquired a kiosk in Seva Kutir, a blind school in North Delhi.

Today after 10 years of diligent labour, Jitender is a happy man. He is married and has two children, in whose name he has substantial FDs. He has built a house for himself and looks after his parents, who live with him.

The successful experiment in Jitender’s case convinced FOD of the reliability and workability of the adopted method, which was christened Apna Rozgaar but funding was a problem. FOD launched greeting cards designed by artists with disabilities in 1994 and collected funds for six years before formally launching ARS in 1998. The artists too, benefit from this process as they are suitably paid for each selected painting.

A small enterprise under ARS can be operated either from one’s residence or in the surrounding vicinity, which saves the entrepreneur from commuting in the ‘not so disabled-friendly’ public transport and environment. They don’t have to face the usual humiliation at the workplace or while commuting. All the time, money and energies saved on travelling to work can be put into the business. Moreover, working within the community means that family support is readily available.

Picture of Ashok Kumar, a beneficiary of the ARS scheme.

Ashok Kumar, 28, one of the successful beneficiaries under ARS, has polio in his left lower limb. He is trading in confectioneries, soft drinks, snacks and tobacco products. He also offers STD/ PCO facility. When he came to FOD for assistance he was earning Rs 1,000 per month in a photocopy shop, which could barely sustain his poor family of five. Being allotted a PCO by government in May 2003 did not financially help him either because of flood of mobile phones and liberal telecom policy. He was initiated into the trade of tobacco products in Oct 2003. Later, he was also guided to install STD service. Gradually, he added soft drinks, confectioneries, snacks, etc. Now, after nine months, he earns Rs. 300-350 per day, with initial investment of Rs 2,500 by FOD.

Picture of Rajpal and his wife, Kamlesh, who want to extend their shop with FOD help.

Rajpal, 35, has opened a stationery shop at his residence. He has polio in his right upper limb and left lower limb. He tries to generate more income by giving tuition to the children at his place and by selling eggs in the evening. His wife, Kamlesh, 31, also has polio in left lower limb and also wants to benefit from ARS. The couple plan to expand the stationery shop with the investment FOD would make towards her self-employment.

Being productively and purposefully engaged prevents people falling prey to anti-social elements who exploit them to meet their nefarious goals of drug peddling and begging. And the best part is that the income is linked directly with the amount of labour and hard work put by the entrepreneur.

Accessibility, aids and appliances, surgery, PT/OT, etc, are no doubt important components of the rehabilitation of disabled people but holistic rehabilitation will remain impossible if economic rehabilitation, where possible and required, is not provided. This amounts to gross negligence of disabled persons’ potential.

ARS entrepreneurs earn anything between Rs 2,500 to Rs 10,000 a month after the initial micro investment of around Rs 3,000. They are involved in different types of jobs such as selling stationery and consumer products, stalls of eatables, snacks, books, cassettes, tobacco products; catering, rickshaw pulling tailoring, manufacturing and marketing of items like candles, stuffed toys, photoframes, bindi; PCO/STD -- to name just a few.

The enabled entrepreneurs can now afford better medical facilities and provide better food, clothing, housing and education to their children. ARS has raised their standard of living considerably. A few even own colour TVs, coolers, refrigerators, cell phones, etc. One of them has recently bought a motorised tricycle worth Rs 60,000 from his savings.

Some have fulfilled their responsibilities of getting their children married, while a few have entered into married life themselves. Many of the entrepreneurs have opened a bank or post office account or are saving money in other schemes. They have renovated and even built houses.

In their words, they are not just passing their tenure in this world but actually living and enjoying life to the fullest possible. Through ARS they have been able to identify and excavate their hidden potentials. They themselves are amazed and amused by their success. ARS has induced self-confidence and self-esteem in them. From being no one they have become the one who can provide himself and his dependants basic amenities of life and sometimes a little more.

At present 183 people with different disabilities have benefited from this scheme, which has a success rate of more than 75 per cent. Impressed by the uniqueness of ARS a few organisations have come forward to sponsor new ARS entrepreneurs. Realising its utility, various hospitals in Delhi, NGOs, rehabilitation centres, individuals and ARS beneficiaries refer disabled individuals to FOD to be enrolled under ARS.

The ARS entrepreneurs are regularly monitored and guided once the trade is commenced. Intermittently, workshops are also held to enhance their confidence and business skills.

In the present times, when major problems facing the country include unemployment and poverty, ARS is aimed at alleviating poverty, reducing unemployment and mainstreaming people with disabilities.

FOD has won 11 awards in appreciation and recognition of its services for bettering the lives of disabled people. But the biggest reward is seeing the smiles on the faces of those whose lives have been improved. A smile which comes from a sense of achievement, from being self-reliant and a productive citizen of the society. Their aspirations are soaring high, and why not… the sky is the limit.

Hope is like a road in the country:
There was never a road
But when people walk on it,
The road comes into existence.

(Lin Yutang)

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