Volume 1 Issue 4 - October 15, 2003

Corporates need readymade disabled-friendly HR policies

Pradeep Gupta is the managing director of ace information technology (IT) media group Cyber Media India Ltd (CMIL) and has been actively involved in creating awareness on rightful employment opportunities for disabled people in IT sector.

After a lot of brainstorming seminars, he has realised how important it is to provide IT sector with a readymade disabled-friendly Human Resource (HR) policy for faster implementation.

In conversation with Sudeshna Banerjee, Gupta discussed the various initiatives that could be taken for creating sensitisation among IT corporates on disability and employment.

Q: What kind of initiatives could be taken for creating employment opportunities for disabled people in information technology (IT) sector?

Let me look at two aspects. Firstly, opportunities in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector and secondly, in mainstream IT companies.

Now, there are different constituencies that are involved here. As far as the companies are concerned, there is a need for creating awareness. Here, it will be of much use if somebody could draft a sample Human Resource (HR) policy for the benefit of these companies.

For instance, our own employment letter used to say that one had to undergo a fitness test and there was a question on whether one is physically sound. Not that it was applied against employees like Mala Bhargav, who has visual impairment or two or three others, but it was a part of our HR policy.

I realised these lacunae only when I came in touch with NCPEDP. So I would suggest for a draft HR policy that clarifies details of an inclusive environment. This will make things easier for us to create awareness.

Let’s face it - everybody is busy. It’s easier if people get readymade stuff like “dos and don’ts” in HR policy or what kind of software and hardware is needed to make the organization barrier-free. It would be appreciated.

We realised that one needs to have an HR policy, which is like “Disabled for Dummies” (“Dummies” series is a very popular self-help range of books referred to in IT sector).

We have organised two seminars - one in Delhi and one in Bangalore. And then we have done a lot of articles too, which Mala had written for almost six months. That got very good readers’ response. The industry response was also very positive.

We also found that IT industry, the way it has evolved, doesn’t have much hang-ups or resistance to new ideas. Primarily because obsolescence rate in IT is very high. A technology gets obsolete very fast. And hence, it has impacted the culture of the industry as well. IT corporates are absolutely ready and willing to try out any new thing. I don’t envisage any kind of resistance, but I think we require this readymade material to lobby for our cause.

As far as BPO segment is concerned, let me also point out something that was brought to my notice a few days back. There was a gentleman - Rohit Chand from IT&T - who attended our seminar in Delhi and afterwards for his BPO operations, he thought it would be a great idea to hire disabled workers. He actually made the workstations in his office “disabled-enabled”. He even took out advertisements inviting applications from prospective disabled people. Sadly enough, he complained that he never got any application from disabled people.

This brings us to our next agenda – wherein, NGOs like NCPEDP or others need to create awareness about the availability of these jobs to interested and skilled disabled candidates.

I think, apart from making industry aware of the need to employ disabled people, it is also important to create a pool of skilled and capable disabled candidates for such positions. The gap that exists needs to be bridged, if we want to be serious about this.

We must have proper training facilities too. I think Rohit did not get people, as not enough trained disabled people were available.

In the BPO sector, especially, there are so many jobs that disabled people can take up. Nothing very special is required to be added, except for some additional hardware maybe.

Now, when these BPO companies are investing about Rs 3 lakh per seat, it is no big deal for them to spend some Rs 10,000 more to make the hardware and software disabled-friendly.

One of the problems that the BPO industry has always faced is its image. It is perceived as a parking place, an in-between career move by most workers. The attrition rates are very high. Workers take it as a stop-gap job. Most people, in-between college, or planning to pursue higher studies abroad use it as a place to earn some quick money for future use.

These BPOs are looking for stable employees. If you see, disabled people are a more stable workforce in this country. Therefore, if these companies can get more stable employees by making a few investments here and there, why should they mind?

There can be huge employment opportunities in the BPO sector for disabled people.

Q: Yet it has been seen that disabled people, already employed in the BPO sector, are often sidelined. How do you plan to address this issue?

That’s where sensitisation is needed. Yes, it is possible and there will be a few such cases. But then, it is also because in a call-centre, among 400 odd workers, there is just one person with disability. The moment there are 25 workers who are disabled, the attitude will change. The moment a company says, “Okay I don’t discriminate,” the attitude is bound to change. They will do it in an inclusive manner.

Let’s also face it that if there are many disabled people around, you don’t feel they are disabled. It’s the physical presence of a person in a day-to-day work environment that matters. Atleast then you don’t make that person feel in real terms “crippled” in that environment.

Q: Why is it that the same MNCs operating in India have different HR policies for disabled employees as against their counterparts abroad in any developed country?

Because it is never put in their HR policies here! And yes, there is a need for sensitisation in India. You see some 25 years ago there was gender discrimination. Women would be seen mostly at secretarial positions then. Women would hardly ever come into managerial positions. Today, there is far less gender discrimination. Even today, at senior management positions you see lesser women. But now with more and more women coming in, in another 10 years this scenario will change.

Like in US, you saw, women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies and then at Fortune 100 companies and now entrepreneurs in Top 10 Fortune companies’ list. This trend is bound to catch up in India too.

Similar trend is likely to happen with disabled employees too. The moment you have an HR policy that is disabled-friendly, you will see more and more disabled employees joining in.

Right now, an equal opportunities employer implies one who does not believe in gender discrimination. This term is yet to be applied for disabled people. The moment you say you are an equal opportunities employer and do not discriminate against disabled people, the whole situation will change.

But I feel training is absolutely essential. There is a need for skilled disabled workers. Disabled people need to get out their shell. There is also a need for awareness and advocacy. So it’s not so simple.

Q: What are your new initiatives?

We as the media can only play the role of creating awareness. I am planning a seminar where I plan to call the CEOs to tell them about the issues; what can be done; and also take feedback on what they can do. Let’s see what happens next.

Q: When do you plan to organise this seminar?

I think I have to discuss this with Ibrahim Ahmed from Voice & Data, since this magazine has been driving the BPO sector.

Q: There is a plan to set up an institute to train disabled people with machine design, software and hardware for creating intelligent gadgets to ameliorate their lives. Please tell something more about it.

Two of my friends from IIT days – Arun Mehta from InData and Vikram Krishna, who was earlier with Business India got involved in developing a software for Professor Stephen Hawking. They developed this software, which has a speech recognition system.

Arun Mehta told me that when they started developing the package, they realised how ignorant they were about disability and what a person in Hawking’s state actually goes through. Therefore they felt that these gadgets could be best designed by people who are themselves disabled and are trained to perform the work.

So consequently, they said they should put up a proposal to Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). However, I felt that it could be best addressed by a organisation like NCPEDP, which is actually working in this sector. It could be of much help and take it up with the state government.

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