India Inc Making Workplace More Inclusive For Persons With Disabilities | Arabian Weekly


NEW DELHI: As the world celebrated International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) on December 3, corporate India has kept up with efforts to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible.

Organisations across sectors are taking initiatives such as equipping offices with practical work tools like Braille-friendly and voice-enabled lifts and screen readers.

While inclusion has gained pace, only 11.3 per cent (or 3.4 million out of 30 million) Indians with disabilities have jobs. This includes the organised and the unorganised sector, government-led schemes, and self-employment, according to information technology (IT) industry association Nasscom’s June 2023 DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) landscape study. It was conducted with management services firm Aon and covered about 220 organisations in 14 industries.

Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, Nasscom, acknowledges that industries such as services and technology are leading the way with the intentional hiring of PwDs. But India Inc has a long way to go, both in increasing representation and driving an equitable and inclusive culture for employees with disabilities, she says.

Data from foundit points out that 66 per cent of jobs for PwDs are in IT, business process outsourcing and IT-enabled services. About 55 per cent of all jobs, meanwhile, are at the lower quadrant of the job pool, seeking 0-3 years of experience, according to the employment solutions company.

Sekhar Garisa, chief executive officer, foundit, says nearly 300 companies have explicitly hired PWDs this year. But issues such as physical barriers in the workplace (lack of ramps, elevators, or accessible restrooms) hinder them at the workspace. Also, companies that lack inclusive policies make it challenging for PwDs to fully participate in the workplace.

“Finding and hiring qualified candidates with disabilities for particular positions can be a hurdle”, particularly in industries that historically haven’t prioritised inclusivity, Garisa adds.

A positive is that 61 per cent organisations are actively monitoring their PwD diversity, according to the Nasscom survey quoted above, and companies are engaging with stakeholders to effect changes.

At Flipkart, for instance, over 2,200 PwDs work across its supply chain as team lead, data entry operators, and sorters. PWDs manage its delivery hubs end-to-end in Delhi and Bengaluru. The e-tailer has also trained 275 employees as sign language interpreters.

“Emergency features are enabled on smartphones of workers with disabilities, an emergency number is printed behind the flash cards, and reflective jackets and special lanyards for visual identification are provided to them,” says Prajakta Kanaglekar, vice-president, supply chain and customer experience, Flipkart.

One of Amazon India’s Mumbai-based delivery stations is also almost completely managed by individuals with speech and hearing impairment. Its fulfilment centres in eight cities employ people with hearing impairments. “We strive to answer questions such as what can we do to avoid exclusion, and what can we do to offer people a sense of belonging,” says Deepti Varma, VP, people experience technology, Amazon India, Japan and Emerging Markets.

Health insurer Niva Bupa has hired 72 PwDs this year. PWDs now form 0.6 per cent of the company’s workforce. “We have found that PwDs have been a good fit for telesales that involve selling new and renewal policies,” says Tarun Katyal, chief human resources officer (CHRO), Niva Bupa.

General insurer HDFC Ergo, meanwhile, is seeing the fruits of its hiring programme Project Purple. Its PwD headcount has jumped threefold from last year, and their number as a percentage of the workforce has also doubled year-on-year, the company said. “Through assistive technology such as text-to-speech software, voice assistants, videoconferencing tools and screen readers, we have been able to ensure ease of work for all,” says Sudakshina Bhattacharya, president and CHRO, HDFC Ergo General Insurance. The company holds sensitisation sessions for its workforce and all PwDs meet monthly with a “project champion” to discuss ways to make the workplace more inclusive and accessible.

Employees with disabilities are also rising up the ladder and companies are making sure to equip them with the right skills and tools.

Marico, which currently has members with disabilities across mid to senior levels in sales, manufacturing and corporate functions, has introduced a programme to strengthen their integration. “This initiative is geared towards creating a consistent talent pipeline, nurturing individuals with disabilities internally, and preparing them for managerial roles within key business units across our organisation,” says Amit Prakash, CHRO, Marico.

Vedanta, which has 40 PwDs among its employees, contractors and business partners, plans to raise the number to 100. “We are looking to reach out to institutes who focus on PwDs and build a ready talent pipeline for hiring them at Vedanta,” says CHRO Madhu Srivastava. The multinational mining company has also engaged external experts and non-governmental organisations that have studied its sites and discussed with the leadership team “mapping roles for PwDs depending on their abilities and nature of job”, Srivastava adds.

One consistent theme is that companies are reaching out to their entire workforce with inclusivity initiatives and trying diverse ways to boost accessibility.

Natwest India, for instance, provides support for diagnosis, workplace adjustments, assistive tech (such as computer devices that support cognitive disabilities) and coaching for neurodiverse colleagues through specialist qualified partners. The tally of employees with disabilities grew 26 per cent this year at the retail and commercial lender and about 10 per cent of the company’s employees with disabilities are in leadership roles.

“We have colleagues in banking operations across roles like customer service, operations delivery and technology roles like software engineers, testing analysts, and quality automation,” says Sheetal Bathija, head, NatWest India hub.

Additionally, over 70 per cent of its India staffers have completed an online module on awareness around disability and recognising and managing unconscious biases. Two batches of over 30 employees have also been trained in sign language.

Business software company Intuit, meanwhile, is changing its hiring procedures, particularly the engineering interviews, for neurodivergent individuals who can now share their preferences for coding, communication and interview formats. The firm also has an allyship training programme for able-bodied workforce. “We are holding office-hour sessions to provide individuals from the PwD community a confidential platform to discuss concerns with HR professionals or their managers,” says Devesh Amin, global head of infrastructure and APAC IT, Intuit India.

To eliminate unconscious bias, professional services firm Accenture holds training sessions for its recruitment teams, managers and team members of PwD on disability etiquette, and holds experiential learning sessions, and assistive technology training programmes. “For example, our virtual reality-based learning modules on autism and learning disabilities help our people supervisors and others experience the world of a person with learning disabilities, and thereby be more compassionate towards their needs,” says Sanjay Dawar, managing director, global strategy and consulting, and PwD sponsor, Accenture in India.

Optical and digital tech firm STL, which has 10 PwDs on its rolls, has translators present during interviews, and has made charts and manuals available in Braille. “We invested in ASL (American Sign Language) classes for management and employees and plan on implementing changes like Braille incorporation, adjusted card reader heights, and creating appropriate ramps,” says Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL.

K Raheja Corp has Braille-equipped and voice-enabled lifts, facial recognition systems, ramps, and specially designed washrooms. The real estate company has 7 PwDs as part of its workforce, with 16 more hired by its outsourcing partners. “We have observed that employees with disabilities deliver great quality of work, have lower attrition rates, and positively impact both our customers and internal employees,” says CHRO Urvi Aradhya.

Hero MotoCorp has also fitted its manufacturing locations and corporate offices with ramps, elevators, and specially-designed washrooms. The country’s largest two-wheeler manufacturer recruits PwD for plant operations, marketing, research and development, administration, security and facilities, among other roles.

At HCLTech, the PwD headcount increased by 9 per cent in 2022-23. Its employee-led resource group promotes awareness, equality, and suggests policies and programmes to support inclusion and growth, and address disability related topics.

Schneider Electric, which employs 41 PwDs, has an equal employment opportunity policy that covers both visible and invisible disabilities, including chronic illnesses.

“Saksham, our disability inclusion programme, was launched in 2022 with intervention focussed on PwD, covering aspects of sensitisation, infrastructure, digital accessibility, and hiring,” says Binu Philip, CHRO, Greater India zone, Schneider Electric. The digital automation and energy management company says it has made its workplaces, policies, and processes — including those used in recruitment — accessible for all.

Delivery firm FedEx started by hiring 15 PwDs as interns during the first year of its equal employment opportunity initiative. It has now included those with speech and hearing impairments to its team. “Special measures, such as sign language signage, flashers on the shop floor, wheelchair access, and emergency whistles” have been introduced, says Kami Viswanathan, president, Middle East, Indian subcontinent, and Africa, FedEx.

Home appliances company Singer India has helped Kavita Bisht, an acid attack survivor, open a sewing skill centre in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand. “The sewing skill centre provides opportunities to students, including some who are physically challenged,” says Rakesh Khanna, managing director and vice-chairman, Singer India.

Despite the progress, Sigal Atzmon, chief executive officer and founder of medical management firm Medix Global, says many existing employee health insurance plans lack crucial services like specialised therapies and assistive devices. Corporate houses should keep this in mind while choosing a healthcare policy, Atzmon adds.

Source: Business Standard

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