India Inc steps up for staff with special needs - Indegene challenges stereotypes surrounding differently abled employees

26 MAR, 2019

If you ask Swathi TP, manager of human resources at Indegene, what she does at the company, she will tell you that she dons different hats. Her role involves bringing in agile methodologies into talent engagement.

She is currently involved with the leadership team in developing the career and competency framework for the Bengaluru-based healthcare IT company. All this while being visually impaired – she developed optic atrophy while in her teens – but Swathi says this does not define her.

Vineet Saraiwala, deputy manager at Future Retail, is also visually impaired — he has a rare incurable condition called retinitis pigmentosa, where vision steadily deteriorates. Saraiwala has taken a lead role in devising inclusivity initiatives at Future Group: he drives projects related to analytics and operations at Big Bazaar and was instrumental in making stores more accessible for people with disability.

Swathi and Saraiwala represent a growing trend in India Inc.: of differently–abled employees integrating with the mainstream workforce and challenging the stereotypes surrounding their special needs. Such employees do not let their disabilities define them or restrict them and they want to be part of the same level playing field as their peers.

NO DIFFERENT NEEDS HERE

Swathi says she was the first employee with special needs to join Indegene and the organisation was open to learning how it could support her. “I have been given the same access to forums and opportunities and have the same targets and deliverables as my colleagues,” she told ET.

Rajesh Mehta, senior learning facilitator at IBM who has a visual impairment, is responsible for behavioural and leadership training for employees. He conducts classroom sessions and develops learning material. “His responsibilities are the same as any of our other sighted facilitators,” said Chaitanya Srinivas, HR head at IBM India/South Asia.

Technology has made everything possible, said Saraiwala, with screen readers and other similar software putting those with different abilities at par with other employees. “It’s up to us to break conventional thinking about those with special needs and that begins at the workplace,” he said.

ORGANISATIONAL SUPPORT

Organisations are stepping up their game to ensure such employees have the right resources and opportunities.

At Wipro NSE 0.15 %, more than 500 employees with disability work in various roles across geographies. “We have employees with visual disability who play key roles in HR, managing 500-800 employees using alternate solutions. Similarly, we have seen employees with locomotor disabilities breaking infrastructural barriers and participating equally in all aspects of their job,” said Sunita Cherian, senior VP of corporate human resources.

Over 70% of differently–abled employees are in roles including technical lead, architect, developer, tester, project manager and project lead. Infrastructure, HR systems and other key applications, support like screen readers and sign language services have been made accessible to them.

Amazon India has more than 350 associates with hearing disability across its fulfilment centres and sorting centres. The company pioneered a ‘silent delivery station’ in Mumbai with Mirakle Couriers, a service partner that employs people with hearing disability. This station is almost completely managed by associates who have hearing disability. This station is almost completely managed by associates who have hearing disability. “We opened the second one – also in Mumbai – last year in June. Associates use the same technology as hearing associates, with some modification in processes to ease their delivery experience,” said Prakash Rochlani, director of last-mile delivery at Amazon India.

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