A study by Business Standard in 2019, highlighted that persons with disabilities (PWDs) constitute less than 0.5 per cent of employees in India’s top companies. These figures are a reminder of the appallingly low employment opportunities for PWDs in the corporate sector. This untapped talent pool with immense potential and skills are waiting to be harnessed.

There are several reasons which work as barriers for people with disability to enter the workforce. For the person with disability, they could range from lack of accessible education/skills, lack of financial support to lack of encouragement from family and society to paucity of opportunities in the market supporting their disability and skillset. At times it is the perception on their work-related abilities, negative attitudes and insensitivity stemming from ignorance, stereotypes, and fear of backlash. Also, lack of infrastructure, lack of sourcing avenues, the myth around additional expenditure in the recruitment of PWDs and lack of awareness about disability in corporate India, end up impeding the opportunities of people with disability to enter and then grow as part of the workforce.

Changing Landscape

Over the years there have been many constitutional and legal provisions on Disability that have been in our country ranging from the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992 and the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 which covers 21 disabilities. On the skill front too, we have the National Skill Development Corporation focussing on skill-based courses, and courses being offered by community colleges and NGOs. Many Indian Corporates too have started doing their bit and have done some exemplary work under their Volunteering and CSR initiatives to up skill people with disabilities and prepare them to enter the workforce.ANZ India, Tech Mahindra, Spark Minda and Mindtree are a few organizations doing some meaningful work in this space.

Business Case for PWDs

Multiple studies and surveys suggest that inclusion of PWDs carries merit not just on humanitarian grounds. In fact there is a strong business case for their inclusion. As per a report titled “The Road to Inclusion – Integrating PWDs in Organizations” published by the Boston Consulting Group and Youth4Jobs, companies hiring PWDs witnessed improved productivity(8-10% higher productivity established in several roles in manufacturing, hospitality, BPOs), lower attrition rates (5% lower than regular employees)and lower absenteeism which led to better bottom lines, higher customer satisfaction levels and creation of a positive brand image.

Multiple other studies reveal PWDs, are more disciplined and have a greater commitment towards work. While training them requires a higher investment, but once trained, their productivity is significantly higher. They are more intrinsically motivated to perform than their colleagues. Many organizations have already started recognising these benefits and have been employing them in large numbers not just as part of corporate social responsibility but rather as an operating model.

Creating an Inclusive Ecosystem for PWDs – Some Best Practices

More organizations have opened up to hire PWDs and mainstream them into the workforce. With an endeavour to build an inclusive and conducive environment for PWDs, organizations are considering their specific needs, preferences, and motivational factors, and designing suitable HR practices to attract them. There are 4 major action areas where we see organizations coming up with initiatives to help PWDs grow and sustain.

  • Employability – Inclusive Hiring – the first and foremost step is tapping this talent pool with appropriate hiring and selection processes in place. The Organizations in the hospitality industry like Lemon Tree, InterContinental, Sarovar and ITC have identified suitable roles basis the disability in Food & Beverage Service, Housekeeping, Security, Laundry, Concierge etc., through various NGOs across the country. Big Bazaar’s too is closely connected with various NGOs that work with PWDs. These NGOs become the recruitment pools from which Big Bazaar hires. Jubilant Food Works runs the “Inclusive Employment Program” for PWDs. Till date, they have recruited more than 200 people having hearing and speech impairment across the country in their restaurants. JP Morgan has recruitment drives with Sign language interpreters and other accommodations. SAP has introduced neuro diversity initiatives to recruit applicants on the autism spectrum for suitable positions.
  • Enablement –Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodations–Organizations are ensuring that they provide employees with disabilities with disabled friendly infrastructure, accessible tools and technology and a formal accommodations program. For example, Accenture has house nurses/assistants available to help employees with disability in their movement and other personal requirements at work, if needed. They have special medical cabs for persons with disabilities. For hearing and speech impaired employees, the transport team is trained to communicate through SMS. Including Accenture, companies like ANZ and Loreal have done accessibility audits and are working on ergonomics of the offices by introducing things like having braille name plates on doors of conference rooms, automatic doors contrasted sign ages, accessible workstations apart from providing assistive devices such as wheelchairs, joysticks and pedals to help employees work conveniently.
  • Empower– it is important to ensure that employees with disability are treated equally and not differently when it comes to performance evaluation, compensation or training and upskilling them for current and future roles like any other employee in the organization. Their skill development needs might be different; hence a lot of organizations have IDPs, Mentorship programs, Career mapping initiatives in place to identify their training needs and accordingly design specific development programs for them. Organizations today support Like Jubilant Food Works boast of being the first company in India to institutionalize the Inclusive Development of PWDs.
  • Sensitization -To ensure acceptability and smooth transition of PWDs in the workforce, sensitization of all stakeholders, from the leadership to HR, recruitment leads and teams, facilities and operations teams and peers of the new recruits is important. This is imperative to demystify the myths around disability and overcome the cultural stigma associated with it. As part of the onboarding process organizations like lemon tree make it mandatory for employees to go through sign language training to promote ease of communication with their colleagues with speech and hearing impairment.

In the end, if we look at the best practices, the focus across organizations has largely been on visual and hearing disabilities. Awareness on disabilities like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and acid attack victims is still very low in the corporate sector and their inclusion therefore is low. Also, it is important to note that simply having these policies and best practices in place does not help in the upliftment and empowerment of PWDs. Organizations need to ensure that their practices/policies are inclusive and not divisive in nature to ensure that they create a level playing field for PWD’s to enter and grow in the organisation.

The World Bank considers that leaving persons with disabilities, outside the economy, translates into a foregone GDP of about 5% to 7%. These are figures to ponder upon. Today, we need more such forward looking and inclusive organisations in the country to play a pivotal role in partnering in this journey of building an inclusive society. Not only will such initiatives improve the employment opportunities and quality of life for people with disabilities but also bring in substantial gains to the economy.