A corporate mission to accommodate difference

Posted on January 12, 2011 By Anindita Mitra

Difference. It’s a loaded word. Some people shy of it, some people welcome it, some go out of their way to seek it out. Then there are some who live with it.

While the 2011 census will reveal better statistics, it is estimated that there are over 70 million persons with disability in India and only a negligible percentage of that populace are gainfully employed. Surprisingly enough, it is the corporate world, never mind the popular imagery of regulation suits, conventional haircuts and even more conventional personas, that’s stepping up to the duty of including persons with disability in their workforce. They are also ensuring that the workplace is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disability.

Wipro, for instance, has a very pro-active policy on this. The initiative started years ago when it became apparent that a growing number of employees had pre-existing challenges or met with less fortunate circumstances.

“Two years ago, we established a framework to provide an environment of opportunities. We involved consultants and complied with the UN guidelines to provide for an accessible workplace. Simple changes like wheel-chair accessible ramps, widened restroom doors, handrails on both sides of staircases made a huge change. Our team of auditors surveyed the Wipro office buildings to see where and how changes could be made and for new buildings we developed a building code based on the UN guidelines,” says Isaac George, general manager and head of human resources for Wipro Infotech.

The work processes were also made more accessible by Wipro. As George goes on to explain, “we implemented the guidelines for web content accessibility and provided software for screen reading. We changed all employee applications so that they were accessible and brought in assistivetechnology aids as well.”

But what is most significant is that Wipro does not label. “We do not earmark a handful of jobs for persons with disability. That would be a kind of discrimination. We have a sensitisingprogramme that is mandatory for all employees to clear and our interviewers are trained on this as well. We have the job roles precisely described and it is up to a person to decide whether they want to take it up. Some of our differently-abled employees are in HR, in business development, in consulting, administration, training and software development. There are no boundaries set at Wipro.”

SAP Labs India too follows that philosophy. They feel that deliberate inclusion just to pay lip service to the idea of diversity is degrading. The emphasis is on providing equal opportunity and affirmative action to ensure accessibility. Ferose VR, managing director, SAP Labs India clarifies further on this: “As an equal opportunity employer, SAP Labs has a long-standing policy of nondiscrimination in all aspects of its dealings with people, as such we provide equal opportunity to persons with disability. SAP takes affirmative action to ensure that all of its employees enjoy equal access to opportunities and work in an atmosphere free from unlawful discrimination. Our facilities are user friendly and accessible to individuals with disabilities. We have wheel chairs and helpers on call, provide reserved parking, make lunch and beverages available to them at their desk and customise equipment and devices to suit their needs.”

SAP Labs has been committed to the cause of ensuring accessibility for all SAP products so as to ensure that they can be used just as effectively by differently-abled people. SAP Labs also allow for flexitime and Ferose specifies: “Our policies and procedures are customised depending on specific needs, and every employee has the option of part-time or modified work schedules.”

MPhasis is also making great strides. Apart from working with a stringent set of disability guidelines that extend to all work areas, including employee sensitising, recruitment, workplace and work processes accessibility. “We also partner with Enable India in Bangalore and other non-profits across India to be more inclusive. Our Project Communicate with Enable India trains youths with disabilities in the skills required by the IT industry,” says Minoo Bambani, head of corporate social responsibility at Mphasis.

Romesh Wadhwani, Chairman, CEO and founder of Symphony Technology Group, had launched the non-profit Wadhwani Foundation in 2000. It has an agenda of corporate placement for persons with disability. C Mahalingam, executive vice president and chief people officer, Symphony Services, says that some of Symphony’s differently-abled employees have been hired under the guidance of Dr Ajay Kela, president and CEO of Wadhwani Foundation. As

Dr Kela points out, given the social environment in India, it is difficult for a differently-abled person to pursue education and skill-based training. “It has to be made apparent to the corporates that a qualified person with a disability has more tenacity, can handle more challenges and has a tougher, can-do attitude. It makes sense to have such an employee on board,” he says. “Our goal, over the next five years is to train and place at least 1,00,000 skilled persons with disability in the corporate world. By then, we hope, corporates will recognise the business value proposition in such hirings and recruit on their own.”

Going by the current trend, it seems that it is perhaps not such an impossible dream.

*Posted on www.dnaindia.com