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The ‘Invisibility’ Of The People Living With Disabilities: Just Jobs Won’t Help

Posted on August 19, 2014 in Specials

By Ayushi Vig:

In today’s world, the word ‘minority’ is tossed around all the time. Catering to minorities is as much of, if not more of, a priority in much of decision taking and policy making than is catering to majorities. Further within these minorities, there are divisions that are less often talked about, between those that are more dominant and those less so. It has been so easy for us to ignore the group that is less able to stand up for itself — the people living with disabilities.

physically disabled

It isn’t that we aren’t aware of disability–we definitely are. We turn to them mostly as figures of inspiration, calling upon them to give motivational pep talks at schools and offices across the country. What we fail to associate with them (even as per definition), however is their ability–many of us barely identify anything apart from their struggle with themselves. But, it is true that times are changing. One only has to turn to their involvement in the workplace.

Popular cafes like Costa Coffee and Cafe Coffee Day have implemented policies to ensure that the such people are given a presence in their organizations. Cafe Coffee Day employs speech and hearing impaired individuals as “Silent Brew Masters”, claiming that their heightened sense of smell and taste gives them an advantage while brewing coffee. Costa Coffee, on the other hand, hires 15% of its employees from among those with disabilities, explaining that these employees are often more committed to their jobs. MNC’s like HCL adapt to the needs of such employees, such as by allowing them to work from home. Mirakle Couriers in Mumbai has taken it to another level–it employs only the hearing impaired.

At Shanti Home in Greater Noida, a rehabilitation center, ex-patients man the reception and several also serve as caretakers to current patients. As Naman Singha, a volunteer at the center, explains, “these ex-patients have precious insight into patients’ needs, and as a result, are invaluable”.

Similarly, many schools, such as Noida’s Step by Step and Mata Bhagwati Chadha Niketan, employ people with disabilities in their department for students with special needs. In Step by Step’s Special Education Needs (SEN) department, for example, those with disabilities often assist teachers in teaching classes. As Arundhati Singh, a student of the school, has observed, “these individuals often serve as role models for students of the SEN department, reinforcing their potentials. They also serve as reminders to the rest of the school of the coexistence of capability and disability.”

Yet, despite this undoubtedly noteworthy advancement, there is still a long way to go. Their presence in the workplace, and indeed in most aspects of daily life, is yet to be truly felt. In order to confirm this, I conducted a little survey among 15 inhabitants of Delhi and Noida, asking them whether they have ever seen or interacted with an individual living with disabilities in his or her workplace, apart from in an organization that caters to the disabled, such as at Shanti Home or Step by Step, as described above. The results are displayed in the pie chart below.

pie chart

Zero! That’s how many people had. Yes, perhaps they may have interacted with such an employee at some point and simply forgot about it, but the fact that they could not recall any such incident proves that their presence is simply not felt. The “Silent” in the title of the Silent Brew Masters is a key indication of the kind of presence they have–silent, and invisible.

As Som Mittal, the president of NASSCOM, has stated, “mainstreaming inclusion of persons with disabilities is the key to meeting the millennium development goals…and to move to the next level of growth, India needs to achieve the Millenium Development Goals”.

The people living with disabilities have a presence, but not a mainstream one. They work behind the scenes, invisible to the average consumer. Just like any other minority, they need to be seen, they need to be heard. They should not be hidden from the public eye, they need to be brought forward, and yes, made mainstream. It isn’t enough for them to be given jobs and remain hidden away, their presence needs to be felt.