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Organizations in India are increasingly focusing on their diversity and inclusion policies during this pandemic. (Photo: United Nations)
Organizations in India are increasingly focusing on their diversity and inclusion policies during this pandemic. (Photo: United Nations)

How India Inc is rethinking inclusion during pandemic

  • On International Day of Disabled Persons, we look at the ways corporates are supporting their differently abled employees

Over the past few months, the visually impaired employees of Tekvision Softtech And Accessibility Solutions LLP have been practising how to do videoconference meetings. “While celebrating someone’s birthday or any other special occasion, everyone turns on their camera and continue their friendly banter. It will help them learn how to position their camera, their chair," explains Siddhant Chothe, the tech company’s co-founder. The aim is to make them comfortable doing client meets on video calls eventually. “It’s for the client’s benefit. I feel my colleagues will also gain confidence. It may lead to better rapport," says Chothe, who’s visually impaired.

For people who work in the corporate sector and are differently abled, working from home has been a blessing since they don’t have to commute. What’s more, they are learning to use technology effectively to get their work done. Organizations, too, are finding different ways to support them.

Also Read: Inside India’s Quest to Fix Its Payments Puzzle

When Jeevan Anupalli, senior designer (accessibility), at Walmart Global Tech India, had to do a mandatory compliance training, he found the procured software wasn’t very accessible. Being visually impaired, he found the drag and drop interaction to be challenging. “The organization was welcoming when I gave my inputs to improvise it. Also, if there is an issue with some internal application, my teammates and the IT team are very helpful," says Bengaluru-based Anupalli.

For some, the move to digital communication has helped immensely. Ganesh S., an installation engineer at Alstom Group, who is hearing impaired, says that since presentations have moved to Microsoft Teams, which has a live caption feature, he’s able to comprehend and contribute more during meetings.

Chandrima Kirtonia, senior executive at Mahindra Logistics, on the other hand, is still getting used to remote working. Having cerebral palsy, Kirtonia can’t multitask. “I can’t memorize things. I need to understand the core of why we are doing something in a certain way. And not everyone has that much time to clarify all this over phone. But my team has been very understanding," says Kirtonia.

According to Nayantara Janardhan, program manager at EnAble India, a non-profit that works towards economic independence and dignity of people with disability,

Organisations in India are increasingly focusing on their diversity and inclusion policies during this pandemic. “It’s been heartening to see organizations wanting to create inclusive environment in these times of uncertainty." she says. Of the current 20 organizations, where live engagements are ongoing at present, 30% came on board after March, she informs.

“Despite hiring freeze, in the last two to three months, we have noticed companies hiring PwDs (people with disabilities) and creating a longer term inclusive hiring targets," says Sarbani Chakravarty, head of CII’s India Business and Disability Network. The initiatives, though, are largely limited to multinationals, she adds. Nonetheless, work from home may open up more opportunities for differently abled people.

V-shesh, a tech solutions company that enables employers to train intellectually disabled employees through audio-video prompts on tasks through its MyDost app, have seen demand expand beyond hospitality and retail to logistics and fast-food industries.

Open to all

It’s not just work. Organizations are also being conscious of making their engagement activities inclusive.

Fayaz Pasha, senior analyst, Advanced Technology Centers in India, Accenture, and his team have been selecting activities where he can equally take part. “While designing these activities, my team picks activities that I would be comfortable with. For example, antakshari, which is an auditory game, and story-building sessions," says Pasha, who is visually impaired.

It’s been a continuous learning journey for companies, though. BarrierBreak, a digital accessibility testing and consulting platform, where 70% of the employees are differently abled, faced challenges while organizing inclusive fun activities. “We soon realized that for certain activities, like taking selfie, people with visual impairment were not comfortable. Hearing impaired weren’t interested in oral performances despite having interpreters, as they couldn’t participate themselves. In physical format, you will still be part of it, but virtually, people had preferences. We realized we will try to make as many activities inclusive as possible but we will not feel bad if certain groups didn’t attend," says chief executive Shilpi Kapoor.

Dinesh Kaushal, who works at a Gurugram IT company and is part of its disability inclusion initiative, says sometimes one solution may be good for one disability but it may not work for other. So, he adds, it’s necessary for differently abled employees to be proactive. “In my company, whenever we mention about challenges, they do pay attention. I think companies cannot fix everything but if they are willing to look at what we are saying, I feel that’s a good start," says Kaushal, who’s visually impaired

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