How Can Workplaces in India Be Inclusive of Employees With Disabilities?

By SHRM India Content Team Jun 13, 2017
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Along with the interest that diversity has sparked off in the recent years, disability is another factor that is receiving attention. Approximately 2.13% of India's population are disabled in some way (http://www.disabilityindia.com/html/facts.html). It is important to understand that estimates of disabled people differ quite widely based on the surveying agencies definition of disability.

The primary categories of disability include loss of locomotor skills, vision, hearing speech and mental faculties. Handicaps associated with old age are also included in these statistics. The World Bank places this figure at 8%. This very large group has been marginalized for a very long time causing the country a huge loss in terms of productive work hours and employable workforce. Most people feel some level of discomfort around disabled employees as they are unsure about how they should treat the disabled person. In India disability is often regarded as some form of abnormality whereby all faculties are questioned.

The general population must be educated to understand that often disability is minor and such a person can perform other functions quite efficiently. This is possible why the term "differently abled" is being increasingly preferred among professionals. It prevents misconceptions and prejudices about a person's capability and is a more inclusive term.

Many differently abled people have sharp intellectual abilities and can be productive employees if they are placed in appropriate jobs with some support from the organization.

For that, the senior management and the HR departments of all organizations should actively work towards finding the most effective way of utilising this section of people. Organizations must create a sound policy and strategy to absorb people with disabilities that can be accommodated in the context of the organization's business.

To be able to do this effectively, some groundwork is required in preparing the organization in terms of infrastructure and helpful attitude of co-workers.

Purpose: Business reasons for an organization to hire disabled employees?

Besides Corporate Social Responsibility there are valid business reasons for organizations to increase the numbers of disabled people on their roster -

Different perspectives: To get the best out of the current market situation, an organization needs different perspectives. Disabled people will able to give the organization that extra edge in thinking by sharing perceptions which might be otherwise overlooked.

Untapped, highly motivated talent: Disabled people are an untapped resource so far. They have the time, talent and desire to accomplish their goals. This drives them to put in their best effort especially since they have to prove themselves in their work situations.

Gaps in roles where this pool of employees maybe more successful: Studies in the United States have proved that disabled employees do especially well in roles within facilities management, energy management and water treatment, elevator maintenance; general construction, repairs, and renovations; and common custodial and grounds services. In many countries there are recruitment gaps in these services. Disabled people can fill this space. While this might not apply directly in the Indian context, such a study can be conducted internally within the organization to identify gaps or rolesthat can be a fitment for differently abled professionals.

Tax incentives from the government: Tax incentives can be claimed for any changes the organization makes to accommodate disabled employees. Such changes fall within the realm of assisted or adaptive technology. To share an important piece of information - providing incentives, awards and tax exemptions to private sector employers for ensuring that at least 5% of their workforce is composed of people with disabilities is a provision within the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006.

Lower turnover rates: Different studies by the United Nations have established that turnover is lower in people with disabilities. They do not have as strong an urge to seek new jobs every few years. All organizations seek to establish high retention rates. They can improve their rates and save on recruitment and training costs by inducting more people from this marginalized population.

Lower absenteeism rates: Lower absenteeism rates have been observed in disabled people. Once employed they tend to focus on the job and hence there is a tendency for them to be more satisfied with their jobs causing them to be regular at work. (Ashley Halligan, software Advice 2012) http://blog.softwareadvice.com/articles/cafm/valuable-workforce-hiring-disabled-americans-in-facility-management-1075312/

Of course, there are many support structures that an organization needs to make in terms of infrastructure facilities and attitude before it explores the option of recruiting talented but disabled employees. As can be seen from the factors mentioned above, the effort does have a positive impact on the overall business and also creates a multifaceted workforce.

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health(ICF) has provided a comprehensive classification of disability after a complex process of research involving academics, clinicians, and – impor¬tantly – persons with disabilities. "The ICF emphasizes environmental factors in creating disability, which is the main difference between this new classification and the previous International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps (ICIDH). In the ICF, problems with human functioning are categorized in three inter¬connected areas:

Impairments are problems in body function or alterations in body structure – for example, paralysis or blindness;

Activity limitations are difficulties in executing activities – for example, walking or eating;

Participation restrictions are problems with involvement in any area of life – for example, facing discrimina¬tion in employment or transportation.

Disability refers to difficulties encountered in any or all three areas of functioning. The ICF can also be used to understand and measure the positive aspects of functioning such as body functions, activities, participation and environmental facilitation. The ICF adopts neutral language and does not distinguish between the type and cause of disability – for instance, between "physical" and "mental" health. "Health conditions" are diseases, injuries, and disorders, while "impairments" are specific decrements in body functions and structures, often identified as symptoms or signs of health conditions.

Step 1: Understanding Disability and the relevant laws pertaining to the same

The organization should develop with a working definition of disability. The word disability conjures up the image of a person totally incapable of doing any productive work in the corporate environment, which is not correct. There are different types and degrees of disabilities and work can be allocated based on the job requirements.

India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).This means that certain basic rights that have been approved by the United Nations must be awarded to disabled people with the support of the government.

Awareness of disability causes and rights is low in India. Most people avoid the disabled because they experience a degree of awkwardness in dealing with them. The first step in preparing the organization for the employment of disabled people is to inform all employees about the different types of disability and the appropriate way to interact with such employees.

The United Nations Commission for human rights, makes a distinction between the term disability and handicap.

"The term "disability" summarizes a great number of different functional limitations occurring in any population in any country of the world. People may be disabled by physical, intellectual or sensory impairment, medical conditions or mental illness. Such impairments, conditions or illnesses may be permanent or transitory in nature."

 

"The term "handicap" means the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the life of the community on an equal level with others. It describes the encounter between the person with a disability and the environment. The purpose of this term is to emphasize the focus on the shortcomings in the environment and in many organized activities in society, for example, information, communication and education, which prevent persons with disabilities from participating on equal terms."

For a more detailed explanation, HR managers can refer to the International classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. (See Box above)

In recent times the words handicapped and disabled are not preferred usage due to the stereotype and stigma that they evoke in the mind of the reader. The term differently abled is being used increasingly. While the individual faces some challenges in terms of capability, he or she can perform well in other spheres of life.

In India the persons with disability act (PWD) specifies that organizations should create equal opportunities and a non-discriminatory environment for disabled people and allow them facilities that will help them put in their best performance under circumstances.

It also protects people from being dismissed by the organization if they are disabled while in employment. In such cases the organization should find them another position which they will be able to undertake despite their disability.

The "people with disabilities act" passed three years ago dictates that at least 3% of the jobs be filled by disabled individuals in the public sector. However many of the public sector organizations are nowhere near that target.

Also, despite incentives being offered by the government to the private sector for increasing disability employment rates to 5%, organizations have not done so .As per the Scheme the Government will reimburse the employer's contribution to Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance for a period of 3 years in respect of PWDs, employed on or after 1.04.2008 with a monthly salary up to Rs. 2500/–

http://www.disabilityindia.com/html/feb11news.html#cefdp

Unfortunately reliable records are not available for the private sector as employment of disabled people is still a contentious matter. A 1998 study placed the number of disabled people in the private sector at less than 1%. Only Ten Indian Companies surveyed passed the 1% mark.

http://www.dinf.ne.jp/doc/english/asia/resource/apdrj/z13jo0400/z13jo0410.html)

It appears that by 2002 these figures fell further.

In the late–1990s, employment of people with disability among large private firms was only 0.3% of their workforce. Among MNCs, the situation is far worse, with only 0.05% of the workforce constituting people with disability".

(http://www.disabilityindia.com/html/newsdec.html#IBM).

More recent statistics are not available.

Note: The latest census figures are from 2002. Disability data is collected every decade. The 2012 report is due.

Step 2: Providing assessment of emotional needs and suitable support

There are several misconceptions about people who are differently abled. "Normal" people assume that disabled individuals are helpless, inadequate and completely ineffective. As a result they are either patronising or uncomfortable around challenged individuals. Many people who suffer from learning disabilities are technically labelled disabled, but most perform very well in their chosen occupations. Some famous personalities include Winston Churchill, Einstein, Da Vinci, Picasso, to name a few.

However it is not easy for a differently abled person to surmount the hurdles they face in living a normal life. Physical and social barriers are common as India is not on par with developed nations in creating and maintaining facilities to serve people with physical challenges. Ignorance and blind beliefs form the vortex of unsupportive behaviour from "normal" people.

Isolation therefore, is a common reaction in organizations. The discomfort that other employees feel causes them to avoid the differently abled person. It leads to the isolation of the person as the assumption made is that this person cannot be part of the "fun". Pity is another common reaction that leads to over helpfulness which may not be necessary at all. In fact most challenged people have learnt to cope with their situation and have their own mechanism for dealing with difficulties they may encounter. The differently abled person experiences a lot of insecurity and uncertainty also since they often wonder if they will be left out of the progression cycle or if they will be treated unfairly despite their performance levels. They may often experience fear - of failure, of being isolated, of being criticized and rejected by "normal" people.

Organisations must make all efforts to provide support and integrate differently abled people fully in the workplace.

To share an example, Titan Industries is a torch bearer for the employment of employees with physical and mental challenges. In 2005, 4% of Titan's employees were handicapped. The company set out not just to employ challenged individuals but also to integrate them completely into the organization. This they did by:

Designing work spaces based on ergonomically principles

Providing safe environment e.g. hand rails on all walking paths

Training to improve skills and competencies such as technical competence, computer literacy etc.

Providing emotional and marital counselling for employees as well as counselling sessions for the families to enable smooth integration into the organization.

Educating co-employees in sign language

http://www.tata.com/article.aspx ?artid=xhj6NwEN4b8=

Another noteworthy example is, IBM has started a "Human Ability and Accessibility Center" in India. The main purpose of the initiative is to modify and use technology to make the workplace more manageable for differently-abled employees not just for IBM but for other companies as well. This initiative also seeks to collaborate with government agencies on accessibility–related policy and standards in the country.

The organization aims at initiatives that will help to empower socially and physically disadvantaged employees such as Easy Web Browsing for the visually impaired, WebAdopt2Me for people with cognitive impairments or low vision, IBM aDesigner, a disability simulator, Hindi Speech recognition, and Sensei, an English assessment tool, to facilitate human capability so that everyone can maximize their potential, regardless of ability or disability.

Step 3: Creating awareness within the organization

One of the biggest challenges in employing people with varied capabilities is the attitude of co- workers. People are either dismissive or patronizing towards their co-workers who have a physical or mental disability. As part of their diversity program, organizations need to run educational programs that focus on appropriate behaviour with differently abled people. Complete acceptance and equality should form the basis of all training programs. Any help should be rendered only after permission is sought, or if the situation is dangerous. The person has been hired on the basis of their capabilities and that must be acknowledged and respected.

People who are possibly restricted in one faculty are able to perform other functions as well as a "normal" person. Beethoven, Van Gogh, John Nash and Helen Keller were all "challenged" geniuses. Some of the handicaps are congenital - happening at birth due to mutation, traumatic birth, faulty genealogy, or pollution. Other types of disability are acquired as a result of accidents or age related problems. They should be treated as equal professionals and given the same opportunities for advancement and remuneration. Employees must refrain from discriminatory behaviour such as leaving disabled employees out of activities -professional or social, making rude or pitying remarks, implying lack of worth and rejecting their ideas and participation in programs or organizational initiatives. Any negative reaction or bias towards disabled people should be avoided in the organization and there should be defined corrective action and grievance redressal for the same.

Diversity training is a good place to start orienting the employees to individuals with different needs. Employing challenged people accomplishes two objectives that of helping them to integrate normally into the society as individuals who can make worthy contributions and providing the organization with the use of their talent.

It educates the employees about the diversity policy of the organization which assures all employees of equal treatment in recruitment, training, remuneration , career development and so on regardless of their background or disability provided they are performing the job to the best of their capability and the expectation s of the organization. The training should provide examples of what constitutes discriminatory behaviour. This helps employees to recognize when they are being discriminated against. It informs them about the process of grievance reporting and the penalties that can be meted out by the organization. This protects them from both discrimination and indulgence.

HR should counsel employees who are biased and indulging in unfair practices before the situation gets serious. As with other unfair practices a grievance reporting process must be in place.

Step 4 : Improving infrastructure

Once the organization has decided to step up their efforts to hire challenged individuals, HR and the Facilities manager should collaborate to revamp the building with accommodations required by law in many of the developed countries. . Some of the changes they need to consider are-

Entry and exit ramps for wheel chairs. Doors that will open with a switch, relocation of door swiping equipment, smooth passage inside the buildings, handrails on all ramps

Renovating the restroom, cafeteria and lounge facilities to enable easy movement

Upgrading or providing different equipment to suit changed requirements such as Braille key boards, ergonomically suitable work stations, acquiring new suitable machinery that can be handled by people with limb disability and so on.

There should be en ergonomic specialist present at all times to look into problems with work stations that disabled persons may face. Workstations should be modified to suit the convenience of the employees until they are comfortable.

Making designated parking spots available for handicapped near the entrance. Preventing others from using these designated spots by imposing penalties.

Availability of wheelchairs if necessary

Redesigning suitable infrastructure for their particular workstations, provision of braille laptops, signboards. Designs of tables and chairs should follow specific requirements.

Medical facilities for first aid 24/7

Step 5 : Identifying positions suitable for handicapped through job analysis

When the organization makes the decision to have a policy for hiring disabled people and increase efforts to implement it, there should be a concerted effort to identify positions that can be done by employees with different types of disabilities. This will require a detailed job analysis to be done to study job requirements that can be efficiently performed despite a handicap. For instance jobs that require heavy lifting or continuous physical effort might not fit the bill for people who have impaired limbs. Or jobs that require precise vision cannot be handled by partially blind people. Specific jobs must be identified and efforts can be made to hire disabled people these positions. The employee should be able to perform all essential functions for the job. The employee once appointed should not be discriminated against on any front - recruitment, training, benefits, promotions, job assignments, vacation and even layoffs. On the other hand The American Disability law in The United States also protects employers by stating that employers are expected to make "reasonable accommodation". The employer should not suffer any monetary loss in preparing the organization for disabled employees. The accommodation needs differ with the needs of the disabled employees. Not all organizations can afford to invest in making the changes to their infrastructure systems or processes. Employment of disabled people should be considered as long as it does not endanger the business of the organization or present physical or mental threats to other employees.

Providing gainful employment and allowing disabled people to be financially independent is a lofty idea. The pursuit of such ideals is commendable in any organization. These opportunities help the challenged people to be productive members of the society and the organization. It instils in them a sense of self-worth and confidence which might open the doors to creativity and innovation that will benefit the organization. Hidden talents will emerge and end up saving the company precious dollars and might give them the ultimate competitive edge. Organizations need to step up their efforts in this direction. The biggest battle in India is that of attitude. The country needs to strengthen its laws and introduce new ones to ensure that the initiative is not sacrificed at the altar of attitude.

To sum up, "The problem is not how to wipe out the differences but how to unite with the differences intact". – Rabindranath Tagore

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