The N.C.P.E.D.P.-Shell Helen Keller Awards have been announced. In its seventh year, the Awards have not only led to a recognition of the exceptional work being done by corporates, NGOs and individuals, but have also emerged as a credible way to map the progress being made year by year towards greater dignity and empowerment of India’s 70 million disabled citizens, says Chitra S. Shankar.
Ten awards have been announced under three different categories. Among the exceptional individuals selected this year for having established themselves as role models in furthering employment for people with disabilities are Father Valeriano Vaz, Harish Kumar P. Kotian, Naseema Hurzuk, S. Sankara Raman, Shanti Raghvan, and Shyam Kedare.
Father Valeriano Vaz, Director, Caritas Goa, a Non Government Organisation (N.G.O.) that works in the area of rehabilitation of disabled people, is a leader who has helped bring disability into focus in the State of Goa. He has also introduced a new concept of “reverse inclusion”, where in he has converted their special school to make it inclusive, by opening it for non-disabled students. He is also promoting “reverse inclusion” in other special schools of Goa. He has set an example to other N.G.O.s by employing a sizable number of disabled people in the organisation.
Harish Kumar P. Kotian, specialising in Software Development, is the first visually impaired Manager (Department of Information Technology) of the Reserve Bank of India. Having lost his sight at a very young age, he is actively involved in promoting computer literacy among the visually impaired people. He is a great sportsman having participated in the first mountaineering expedition by disabled people to the Kshitidar Peak scaling 17,200 ft. at Manali, and was the runner up at a navigational Car Rally.
Naseema Hurzuk, a wheelchair user from the age of 16, devotes her life to the rehabilitation and employment of disabled people. She started the ‘Helpers of the Handicapped’ in Kolhapur in 1983 and the organisation has supported over 12,000 disabled people. Through her relentless fight against all odds, to single-handedly build what is today among the nation’s largest organisations for the disabled people, she has become a role model not only for disabled people, but to everyone who has had the opportunity to see her work.
S. Sankara Raman, a wheelchair user with Muscular Dystrophy, has used his experience and education in empowering disabled people in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu. He left his lucrative practice to build a model centre Amar Seva Sangam in a small district, which employs 39 disabled youth. The organisation started by supporting approximately 50 people in 1991, and has now increased its support to over 5,500 people. The Sangam has initiated the establishment and maintenance of the first ever barrier-free bus station in South India.
Shanti Raghvan is the founder of EnAble India, which has been actively involved in education, employment, and rehabilitation of disabled people in 1999. A multi-faceted woman, she gave up a lucrative career in GE Aircraft Engines as Programme Manager and Engineering Manager to concentrate full-time on nurturing EnAble India. She has placed disabled candidates in over 80 companies.
Shyam Kedare has created software that will help visually impaired people to get employment in Call Centres and B.P.O.s. This technology has thus opened up mainstream jobs for visually impaired people. National Association for Blind is using the technology operating a tele-marketing unit for Tata Indicom. After specialising in Software Development, he felt that despite Bangalore being the I.T. hub of the country exporting software to make living convenient for millions of people around the world, much is not being done for visually impaired people living in the same city! It is from here that he decided to do something for visually disabled people.
Among the organisations, Lasersoft Infosystems, a Software product company set up in 1986 with focus on development of products for Banking and Financial Services sectors, is setting a model with almost 13 per cent of its total workforce constituting disabled people. The organisation has also started Life Institute for Technical Education for physically disabled as well as economically backward people. It strives to provide its students a good quality technical education coupled with business domain knowledge, which will help them, get employed in frontline IT companies.
A.B.B. Limited, a global leader in Power and Automation technologies, through its Tsunami rehabilitation programme, has created livelihoods for persons with disabilities. It is doing this in partnership with ActionAid and the District Disability Network, Nagapattinam. A.B.B. has created potential for livelihoods in construction related trades and is supporting restoration of businesses of 53 disabled people who were engaged as entrepreneurs in petty businesses that had been washed away by the Tsunami. Thirty girls with mental disabilities are being trained in rope making with support from ABB. Twenty seven of its 3,439 employees (0.78 per cent) are people with disabilities and it also actively encourages outsourcing of job work to disabled people through organisations working in those areas.
Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind provides services for vulnerable groups like disabled people, economically backward and deprived community in Bangalore and Mandya districts. It also focuses on community-based rehabilitation programmes for disabled people. Forty-four of the 141 employees (approximately 31 per cent) of the organisation are disabled people. It networks at local, national and international levels focusing on rehabilitation and empowerment of people with cross disabilities especially in the rural areas.
Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (B.P.C.L.), one of India’s largest oil companies, has emerged a winner - twice over, for being a role model for public sectors by providing employment to disabled people. B.P.C.L. was awarded the NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Award in 1999 also for demonstrating their belief in equal rights and gainful employment for disabled people. The percentage of disabled employees then was 1.12 per cent. With the corporate philosophy of providing equal opportunity to people with disabilities, B.P.C.L. has 12,082 employees, of which 166 (1.37 per cent) are persons with cross disabilities. B.P.C.L. has downsized since 1999. However, they have increased the number of disabled employees! This is definitely commendable.
Why the NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Awards?
Persons with disabilities represent 6-7 per cent of India’s population. In 1999, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) conducted a survey of Indian private and public corporations, included in Business India’s Super 100 list of 1998. The survey revealed that the private and public sectors employed a mere 0.28 per cent and 0.54 per cent disabled people, respectively.
This led to the institution of the N.C.P.E.D.P.-Shell Helen Keller Awards by (N.C.P.E.D.P.) with the support of Shell India in 1999, to honour those people and organisations that have contributed to the cause of promoting employment opportunities for disabled people. Every year, 10 role models who have been doing exemplary work towards helping disabled people find positions of equality and dignity in the workplace are selected.
The winners are decided after intense deliberations by the Selection Committee comprising eminent personalities from the industry and the disability sector. Subodh Bhargava, Former President of Confederation of Indian Industry and Trustee of N.C.P.E.D.P., has chaired the Sub-Committee for the past seven years, from 1999-2005.
This year the Sub-Committee comprised Subodh Bhargava, Executive Trustee, NCPEDP (Chairman); Sujit Gupta, Chairman, Core Committee on Disabilities, CII; D.S. Chauhan, Hon. Secretary, Delhi Association of the Deaf; Asha Mehra, Secretary, Swavalamban; and Dr. Shailaja Sharma, Manager- External Affairs/ Corporate Identity, Shell India Pvt Ltd.
The nominations are such that it is very difficult to choose the winners. Rati Misra, Senior Programme Officer, N.C.P.E.D.P, says, “I find the Helen Keller Awardees to be truly inspirational - and this year’s winners are no exception! Their achievements are phenomenal and I look forward to meeting them at the award ceremony. As always, we received many strong nominations and it is so difficult in only being able to award 10 in total.”
The award ceremony will take place on 2 December 2005, the eve of the World Disability Day, where the individuals and organisations selected will be honoured at a function in New Delhi. The winners will receive a medal (for individuals) or a trophy (organisations), along with a citation.