Nasscom Foundation’s CEO, Rita Soni, and vice-president, research, Sagarika Bose, are optimistic that the foundation’s Persons with Disabilities (PwD) employment fair will prove to be a medium for private companies in the IT sector to create employment opportunities for the disabled. The fair will be held in New Delhi on 10 December. In an interview, the two talk about the foundation’s three-point agenda to enable people with disabilities, and the approach companies need to adopt to hire such people. Edited excerpts:

Skills matter: A job fair for PwD will be held in Delhi on 10 December.

What are the initiatives taken by Nasscom and the IT sector to employ PwD?

Soni: We focus on advocacy and play an advisory role in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) section and disability falls under this category. We have a unique ability to approach this issue since as an industry we have products and services that help in dealing with disability.

Bose: We have a three-point agenda, one is PwD employability. We are looking at having a dynamic workforce which includes persons with disability. The second is the accessibility agenda—building infrastructure for PwD in organizations. The third is assistive technologies that companies need to adopt in order to employ people with disabilities.

Why do companies in India hesitate in hiring PwD?

Soni: I think it starts from social stigma. Our society is yet to come to terms with dealing with people with disabilities, including their families. That leads to exclusion from the very beginning. So in schools, colleges, the number of disabled people going through education is marginal. Hence the number of opportunities for them shrink.

What are the shortcomings in companies’ approach to hiring PwD in india?

Bose: I think it’s the combination of how companies are approaching issues of why they are doing this and how to go about it. “Are we doing it just because it’s CSR or I genuinely want to tap this population for my benefit and theirs?" When the latter happens, it’s not just about opening your company as a whole: “I am open to employing whoever, no matter what their ability or disability is, as long as they have the requisite skills." That is the approach we need, not creating a sanitized position for PwD.

Who in an organization is generally resistant to the idea of employing PwD?

Bose: Typically it is the middle management. Let’s look at a BPO, they have targets that are week on week. A certain number of calls have to be made, and a certain number of cases need to be closed. Typically the team would have 10-12 people; there are two or three super performers, others average. Each team member is looking at trying to optimize, they have to meet targets. If that team is told they will get a person with a disability, they start to think, “Why should my team have this person; my team members will have to work harder;" or “Why should I deal with it"?

What kind of companies will attend the fair?

Bose:Some are BPOs, some are consulting firms. Some are entry-level jobs, or programming jobs and some are entry-level jobs for research work. We are looking at jobs across the board. We went to companies with one “principle": Are you an equal opportunity employer? If you are, you can’t look for one person fitting one job, you have to look at the larger picture and include PwD in jobs across the board.

So in Delhi, we’re bringing 12 companies with over 150 job openings to meet over 200 people with disabilities.