For centuries now, Persons with Disabilities (PwD’s) have been trying to find a space in Indian societies where able-bodied citizen view and treat them as contributing citizens of the country. Over time, disparities have led to a high degree of marginalization leading to lack of access to equal opportunities in education and employment.
Although corrective actions range from creating accessible infrastructure to skilling programs, efforts continue to remain sporadic and isolated. The glaring gap in the intent that leaders and corporations have, is the resilience and grit required to make a sustained, positive impact in the lives of persons with disabilities. However, those whose intent and efforts have stood the test of time and the pandemic, have many benefits to reap.
Aegis Customer Support Services Pvt. Ltd (a Startek company), an IT-ITES organization, recognized as one among India’s Best Workplaces in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion™ – 2022 has been able to institutionalize a hexagonal model of diversity that supports an intersection of communities that are critical for their business ecosystem. PwDs form a core focus in their diversity model which has helped them institutionalize skilling and employing PwDs. This has enabled the organization to create an alternate talent pool and expand their talent strategy that insures them against the volatility of the talent market, improve productivity, enhance retention and employee engagement in the workplace.
In a recent Diversity and Inclusion Study conducted by Great Place To Work®, areas that proved to be derailers of experience as shared by PwDs in workplaces are:
- Barrier-free infrastructure and supportive technology: PwDs share that most organizations lack understanding and therefore fall short in creating the required accessibility and assistance that enables PwDs to participate fully in the workplace. This can be done through structured interviews with PwD groups, clearly outlining and estimate supportive technology required and taking feedback regularly from the community. Synchrony International Services Pvt. Ltd. ensures that as part of their hiring and onboarding process, all new hires are floated with an additional form on the assistive technology that they would require to carry out their role effectively. This helps them create an accessible environment for all.
- Judgement-free workplace: Another area that impacts the positive experience of PwDs is a safe workspace where they experience a sense of belonging and community. PwDs experience a spectrum of experiences ranging from hostility to sympathy. A key contributor to this experience is the lack of awareness and understanding by able-bodied individuals on what it takes to work effectively with PwDs. The VodABILITY network at _VOIS is an employee network, run by volunteers, to support and raise awareness of disabilities. The network champions an inclusive workplace that drives, supports and enables understanding of disability; allowing every colleague to thrive, without exception thereby building safe spaces to make mistakes and learn.
- Fair promotions and career growth: This turns out to be a blind spot even for organizations that have affirmative hiring programs focused on inclusion of PwDs. This is caused by the undue focus on hiring and preparing the ecosystem to make it inclusive as opposed to effectively tracking performance and equipping managers to understand and support PwDs in the additional competencies required for career growth in the workplace. NatWest Group India has launched a specific 12-week career development program for PwDs which includes discussions with the manager and mentorship supported with a clear development plan to be worked upon in the subsequent 90 days. This helps PwDs gain clarity on the skills and behaviours needed to move up to the next role, learning curriculum to help improve skills & behaviours, along with guidance based on the career path to next level roles that they may wish to move to.
All in all, disability inclusion while requiring conscious action and long-term investments, helps organizations unlock infinite possibilities that impact multi-stakeholders in the business ecosystem. If the vision is to create an equal and equitable world, disability inclusion forms a key aspect of any Diversity & Inclusion strategy.