The son of a poor farmer, Anoop, who has a severe visual disability, was lucky enough to receive support from the National Association for the Blind, an NGO, from the time when he was in school. Accessibility tools such as a laptop with screen-reading software helped him fulfil his potential, says Dipender Manocha, president of the Delhi arm of the organisation.
Anoop went on to crack the prestigious National Law University examination and is now studying to be a lawyer at the university’s Delhi campus.
Many other Indians with disabilities are not so lucky. In fact, the lack of support and access to the right tools and opportunities may be one reason for the abysmally low representation of persons with disabilities (PwDs) in some of India’s largest companies. An analysis of disclosures by listed companies reveals that the share of PwDs is a negligible 0.46 per cent of their employee base. What’s more, PwD representation in these companies has dropped — it was 0.47 per cent last year.
Yet PwDs constitute 2.21 per cent of the general population, according to the 2011 census. And going by global averages, their number may well be as high as 10 to 15 per cent of the population.
Business Standard collected the data from hundreds of annual reports across periods as part of a yearly check on the representation of marginalised groups and discrimination against them among companies that are part of the S&P BSE 100 index. The analysis looked at 68 companies on whom there is data available over the last three years.
The issue of poor representation of PwDs in the labour force is not restricted to corporate entities alone. It is a serious problem across the country. Data from the 2011 census shows that in 35 out of the 36 states and Union Territories, most PwDs were not employed. The only exception was Nagaland, where 51.92 per cent of the PwD population was working. The all-India figure at the time was 36.34 per cent.
A gender-wise analysis shows that 47.2 of the men among the PwDs were working while the figure was only 22.6 per cent in the case of women with disabilities.
One reason for the low representation of PwDs in the private sector may be due to a skill gap. “There is a huge gap between the skill-set required for working in these companies and the skill-set which is currently being developed in our education system for persons with disabilities….Hence, their job opportunities in the private sector becomes very limited,” says Manocha.
Again, since the disabled are often poor, many of them are unable to pick up English language or digital skills, Manocha adds.
Experts say that even those PwDs who manage to find employment face serious difficulties in the workspace. Most offices continue to remain inaccessible and unusable for the disabled. This despite the fact that there have been huge developments in the field of accessibility and assistive technology, software and other technological solutions to make life easier for the disabled.
Dr Nirmita Narasimhan, senior fellow and programme director, G3ict (Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies) points out that globally, there is a push towards the adoption of comprehensive accessibility standards such as the European Procurement Standard EN 301-549 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US, which ensure accessibility of all software, hardware, content and other technologies for the disabled.
India has a comprehensive legal framework in place through the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which directs the adoption of and compliance with accessibility standards. Dr Narasimhan says that the adoption of these standards under the existing law is long overdue and would go a long way in creating a better workplace environment for PwDs.
Experts assert that employers need to overcome their mind block regarding disabled persons. “It’s a myth that the moment one hires disabled people, it will cost a lot...(Most) assistive technologies are available in open source,” says Arman Ali, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.
Others say that costs are not an issue at all. “When employees are productive and showing results, companies do not really worry about the costs incurred,” says Srinivasu Chakravarthula, founder, ServeOM Inclusion, a firm which works on accessibility issues.
The first of a four-part series takes a look at how lack of support and access to right tools and opportunities may be the reason for the abysmally low representation of persons with disabilities in some of India’s largest corporate houses