Volume 3 Issue 22 - November 15, 2005

Remove fear of the unknown to create awareness for employability of disabled people: Bhargava

“The issue of employability of disabled people in the corporate sector needs to be addressed by creating awareness and dispelling fear of the unknown that the industries have had, by imparting skills and creating workstations that allow disabled people to give maximum output,” says Subodh Bhargava, Former President of Confederation of Indian Industry and Trustee of N.C.P.E.D.P., in an interview to Parvinder Singh and Chitra S. Shankar.

picture of Subodh Bhargava

1. The status of employment for disabled people in the corporate sector is poor. What are reasons for this?

If you look at India at the macro-level, the whole issue of employability of disabled people is a fairly recent understanding. In the past, disabled people would be taken care of by the community. In India, therefore, nobody was consciously aware or worked for the needs and rights of disabled people by taking it as a challenge or an opportunity. It is the Government that sometime ago started highlighting the issue by reserving three pre cent government and public sector jobs for disabled people.

2. Why is it taking so long for the focus to shift towards disabled people?

See, even the reservation mandated by law under ‘The Disability Act 1995’ has remained more on the paper and when you came to the actual results it has not being implemented. That is because reservation even with incentives and sops is not a panacea for addressing this issue. The implementation hasn’t happened because there are practical difficulties and also a lack of commitment. The issue of employability of people with disability was recognised by a handful of people about two decades ago, maybe in early 90’s, who felt that first and foremost, there is a need to create awareness about employability of disabled people. There were a whole lot of support organisations at the local level and lot of independent efforts, but there was no movement at the macro-level in the community itself, forget about the corporate sector.

3. What kind of awareness is needed to highlight employability of disabled people?

The awareness is required among people from all sections and in all sectors, I mean both private and public, and unless that awareness is created the results would not come. To my mind, this process of awareness generation started not more than twenty-five years ago and I must say, leaving modesty aside, that National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) since its very inception in 1996, has played a very significant role in this. Awareness does not imply merely awareness that there are disabled people in this world. I mean that is only a smaller aspect of awareness. Equally important was to generate awareness about what could be done and what needed to be done. In other words, there were technologies available to provide both access and employability, but they were not being used.

4. Could you specifically elucidate on awareness with regards to employability?

Employability could be on two fronts. First training of disabled people to pick up a particular skill or discipline. Second on making the workstation accessible for disabled people. The whole mindset would have to be changed to create awareness about what are the dimensions of the problem, what is the potential of that problem, how negatively it could impact if not handled and how positively it could be tackled. This is where the future lies.

5. What are the initiatives, for instance the incentive policy proposal, which you would like to cite to highlight in this context?

Last year, N.C.P.E.D.P. had undertaken a research programme under which an extensive study was carried out to explore and present true picture vis-a-vis employment of disabled people in private sector. I think again it is a question of fear of the unknown for the corporate sector. Many, even if they want to do something don’t know how to go about, or what to do. So the whole idea was to suggest incentives, which are not mere paper incentives.

But, at some stage, there is a need for a message to go out from the Government that it is committed to highlighting the employability of disabled people. There are two things either you incentivise or penalise. The global experience is that the corporate would rather pay tax than to do anything about incentives.

You cannot walk into a post-liberalisation era asking corporate to provide jobs. They are downsizing and wanting to be competitive. Therefore, opportunities need to be found in new sunrise sectors. You cannot be looking for jobs in the sunset sectors. This is where N.C.P.E.D.P.’s focus has been growing and hopefully small bits of results are visible.

6. What is the role that you envisage for business chambers, F.I.C.C.I. and C.I.I., in promoting employment for disabled people?

A Chamber’s greatest role, to my mind would be, one of creating awareness and addressing fear of the unknown. The Chamber would need to talk about what is the size of the issue of the challenge and what are the solutions world-wide that have been successfully implemented, and even in India, certain individual cases. Corporate stories are there where individuals have employed disabled people and this has led to the creation of a positive vibe in the sector. Yes, the C.I.I. has drafted a disability policy, which as I said is still at a draft stage. We wanted not a code of conduct, but a set of guidelines that would allow the industries to understand and appreciate the issue of employability of disabled people.

7. Based on your experience in dealing with the issue, is there anything that you would like to share with our readers.

As I said before, there is a need to create a collective awareness of a number of key issues, like employability of disabled people through enhancement of skills, creation of workstations – using technologies and advanced systems – and demonstrability.

But confrontation must be avoided and a collaborative effort must be made in which the private sector has a big role to play. But as we all know, constitutionally the issue of welfare lies with the Government, which has failed to do an effective job with regards to employment of people with disability. Further as I said it is not an issue of mere reservation.

We must synergise and link all large, individual and small-scale efforts to create a movement. And I must say that N.C.P.E.D.P will have a major role to play in this endeavour.

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