'Persons with disability are motivated to learn more and advance'

'Persons with disability are motivated to learn more and advance'

The Inquirer

Rita Soni

Though the numbers are small compared with the general statistics on hiring, the change in the attitude towards persons with disability has been quite noticeable amongst the IT companies, said CEO of Nasscom Foundation Rita Soni, who spoke to Deccan Herald’s L Subramani on the sidelines of the ‘Diversity and Inclusion Summit 2011’ in Bangalore.

Excerpts:

We have been hearing about the encouraging levels of awareness and openness in hiring persons with disability in the IT and ITES sectors, but do you think they are able to progress on a career path?

We may not have all the answers for the question, but certainly we are working towards it. For progress to happen in terms of understanding the potential of persons with disability, we need to have better awareness and today, we can say that awareness levels are increasing. Though in many circumstances persons with disability may have challenges in terms of progressing to the next level, we are trying to identify profiles that are career oriented than merely job oriented.

This is something we are looking at across the board –in the context of other excluded communities. Whether it is disabled persons or those with other disadvantaged community, it is quite unlikely that they would stay in the same position for 20 years and somewhere the progress ought to happen.

We are trying to provide them the necessary skills to get to the next level and ask for the progression in terms of additional responsibilities and bigger, better roles. Sometimes it has got to do with confidence of a person.

How far is the industry ready to accept persons with disability based on their skills rather than closeting them to pre-defined roles?

Disability restricts persons to perform a certain physical action. Those on wheelchairs may have limitations in performing extremely mobile jobs, while persons with vision challenge may have different means of accessing printed materials. Therefore, assigning certain roles for them seems natural sometimes. For instance, we always assume that persons with vision challenge are touch sensitive and are good at jobs like physiotherapy.
But others have different kinds of ambitions and would like to do something very different and interesting. So it also depends on what they aspire for.

As for what we do, we are still assessing the best means of tapping the potentials of the disabled community without being restrictive, though that is still a work in progress.

Is enabling other sectors with IT tools and technology a way for you to create employment opportunities for persons with disability?

This is part of what we call ‘business responsibility.’ We call it business responsibility because things like sustainability and socially relevant or business cases. We work with IT companies to develop tools that persons with disability can use such as screen readers (domestically available), while also asking them to create services that are available to non profits.

Donating software such as screen readers, for instance, would make it more available to individuals benefited through the non profit organisation. Using those tools, if they train the individuals, then the employers would buy the tools and technologies for them. That way, there is always accessibility at different environments.

Despite efforts at different quarters, web accessibility for persons with disability (who use special software to access internet) remains a challenge in India. What kind of efforts your foundation is making to address this?

The challenge lies in retrofitting websites that have already been created, which, talking from our own experience, is very difficult. Building websites from the scratch has been an easier thing to do. We are talking to web developers, telling them that they can create accessible Indian websites since they follow the access guidelines while creating sites for their foreign clients.

We are also keep advocating accessibility at different level. Now the Indian government has come forward with the commitment to make all its website accessible, though they too face challenges in retrofitting the sites. With more people entering the industry, we are sure that accessibility both at website and software levels would happen.

How determined are you to influence our education system to create the right kind of skills amongst persons with disability who can later work in the IT/ITES sector?

Though we have looked at skilling the engineering students (given the lower rate of employability amongst the graduates), we have not started to look into skill creation at the college or school level in the case of persons with disability. Given that most of them come through the rigours  of an unfriendly system, they are motivated to learn more and advance themselves, which we in the IT industry appreciate.

How far do you encourage schools and colleges to use technology extensively (in the case of persons with disability) in the curriculum and examination systems?

Right now advocacy with companies and government is what we do. We need to move down to education and we will get there sooner than later. Educational institutions are change agents and are ready to implement technologies. With more such institutions, we would certainly see the change happening.




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