Financial independence is a powerful mechanism for people with disabilities to achieve dignity, political participation, security, fulfilment and a socially valued life. The opportunity to work and be employed is an important part of most adult lives. However, when it comes to training, pre-employment skills and placement, people with disabilities have very limited access to such avenues.
An inclusive society strengthens and encourages people with disabilities to assimilate with the mainstream and pursue careers and livelihoods they aspire. This further enables the society at large to become resourceful and move the country towards a future of promise. To achieve this goal, individuals with disabilities need to get equal access to secure housing, supportive familial systems, opportunities to find purpose and a sense of belonging, develop relationships with others, a good education and – a decent and dignified employment. However, in reality, there are a number of obstructions many disabled people face in their daily lives, which hinder their access to public spaces, private institutions, schools, colleges or workplaces. Moreover, biases, prejudice and lack of inclusivity are some deterrents which create the negative perception of inferiority, incompetence and helplessness among people with disabilities.
Living with a physical, intellectual or mental limitation, is challenging especially in countries like India for two critical reasons. First, the social stigmas which tend to question the capabilities of persons with disabilities at every stage of their lives. Second, lack of a holistic developmental approach towards their betterment, which must include not only medical interventions but social, environmental and physiological service systems which have a tremendous impact of the lives of differently abled people. These efforts align with the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities, to promote respect, independence, equal access and opportunity to quality education and decent work.
The primary reason for the lack of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities is a broken education system which values merit, grades and conventional forms of studying (such as rote-learning) instead of knowledge and cognition. This instills a feeling of discouragement and demotivation among people living with varied disabilities who may not be valued accurately through these old and archaic systems of assessment. Furthermore, to secure a job, applicants require industry knowledge and skills, with the disabled community not getting equal access to quality education, study materials, learning aids and trained teachers, majority of them lack behind. More than their disability, societal biases push them to the edge. However, those who get quality education, knowledge and skill sets, are absorbed in mainstream workforce.
As per 2011 census data, 55% of the total disabled population could read and write and 36% of this population section was employed in some occupation. This data suggests that there is potential for individuals with disabilities to be a part of the formal workforce and contribute to the country’s economy. According to the International Labor Organisation, 15% of the world population is differently-abled and a big percentage of it - 80% are of working age. Roughly that number comes to 785 million people. If we collectively become a little more aware and put some efforts – it would make a huge difference for people with disabilities in their careers.
In past few years, a positive trend is being witnessed. Organisations and companies are coming forward to create a space for persons with disabilities. There are a number of career options at present that they can pursue. Many organisations in India are working in this field to empower, train and educate individuals. This has immensely helped them. Now, persons with physical impairment can be employed in the field of education, banking, information technology, administrative services, artisans, technician, corporate sector, art, music, cooking and even sports. The job providers are aware of the limitations and they do make sure that their employees with disabilities get the resources, support and opportunities they deserve.
For those who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia or autism: a job in professional kitchens, art and designing enterprises, horticulture, and the software sector and many more would be the ideal choice. People with such disabilities are incredible multi-taskers, the kind of creative thinking and imagination they possess can go beyond the defined limits set by society.
Societies are now working closely to assess the different capabilities and opportunities available to their differently-abled citizens and how best to utilise their resources based on their talent, knowledge, expertise in every field. In terms of employment opportunities, the possibilities for people living with disabilities seem to be boundless, if employers, institutions and workplaces, are just made cognizant of the varied requirements of their differently-abled staff.
India in the recent years have outnumbered the enterprises who have employed the people with disabilities and given them a ray of hope. Various restaurant chains have employed people who have hearing impairment. Special training is imparted to these individuals so that one can easily achieve the goal they have set for themselves and have a blooming career in any field.
The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Ministry of Social Justice) has a web portal through which individuals can type in their disability and search for suitable jobs. The department further imparts training to specific job profiles if required. Along with this, Self-Employment loan and Education loan is provided if they wish to start their own business or study the subject of their choice with scholarship options. Constant efforts are made to enable the one with disability and not be treated different but equal in any career option which they choose.
The differently-abled population amounts up to 1.46 crore in India. As per Census 2011, 36% of the total was employed. This data implies that there is scope for these individuals to work and contribute further to the country’s economy. Along with the existing initiatives, it is crucial to spread awareness that people with disabilities are as capable as any other individual. The society at large needs to be sensitised that individuals with disabilities are as much capable living life and command as much respect as any other person. It is high-time that they receive what they deserve.
(The writer is CEO, The Hans Foundation)