New Delhi: 34-year-old Ghousia Nishat from Bengaluru, suffers from Muscular Dystrophy since birth. It is a condition that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. Most people who have this condition need a wheelchair. Disappointed by her disabilities, Ghousia’s father left her and her mother when she was little. Ghousia mother worked at her own sister’s house at first and then at a small boutique to earn an income in order to educate her.
When I grew up, I helped a child in my neighbourhood with her studies and she did really well. She told this to my other neighbours. The families near my house used to doubt my abilities as a tuition teacher but eventually four parents agreed to send their children and were pleasantly shocked with the results. I loved studying and teaching but unfortunately, I could not complete my education because my mother had a heart attack. At that time, I started looking for jobs in order to take care of my mother. A friend of mine told me about EnAble India and said that this organisation can help me train and find a job. I got myself registered there.
Before she started her training, a member of EnAble India paid her a visit and assessed her condition and evaluated the kind of support and assisted technology she would be requiring to work independently. He found that speech recognition technology would be better suited for me.
Learning was very tough. At that time, I was living in a slum area that was very noisy. So, I used to wake up around midnight to practice using the software because it needs a quieter environment for the speech recognition technology to work efficiently, she said.
The technology requires her to give verbal commands to her computer such as “press up arrow”, “enter”, “open Microsoft Outlook” in order to work. EnAble India helped Ghousia get a job as a data miner in 2014. That was 8 years ago, today Ghousia enters her office Dell EMC, Bengaluru every day with pride and determination, with a desire to live an economically independent life. It was her will to give her mother a better life that motivated her to face every challenge and move forward. As she became financially independent and started earning, she bought a washing machine, a refrigerator and a TV for her mother. Ghousia is now happily married to a person without any disabilities and living a life of dignity. She said that being a tax-payer, she feels that she is helping in nation-building.
According to the Population Census, 2011, in India, there are over 1.34 crore persons with disabilities in the employable age group. Out of this, about 99 lakh or almost 73.8 per cent are marginal workers or out of employment. With an aim to work towards economic independence and dignity of people living with disabilities, and to the bridge gap, social entrepreneurs Shanti Raghavan and her husband Dipesh Sutaria founded EnABle India, a non-profit organisation in 1999.
According to Ms Raghavan, it all started in the early 1990s, when her 15-year-old brother Hari was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that leads to loss of eyesight. Shocked at this development and wanting to do something about it, Ms Raghavan and her husband, both employed in the information technology sector in the United States of America, asked Hari to come over.
In the process of my brother’s rehabilitation, every step of the way, for each barrier we found solutions. He has a jovial nature and I love that he lives his life so nicely and does everything like travelling, adventure sports among other things. At every stage of his life, he was able to see his own value, recalls Ms Raghavan.
However, the big challenge came when after completing his graduation Hari started applying for jobs but was getting rejected because of his visual impairment. According to Ms Raghavan, even though he was an MBA topper, it took many interviews and rejections before he landed a job.
This experience spurred Ms Raghavan and Mr Sutariya to start EnAble India for others like Hari, WHO wished to be a part of the mainstream. While continuing her job as a full time IT professional, Ms Raghavan started teaching computers to the visually impaired before and after office hours at her residence. As the word spread about quality training, more people with disabilities started approaching her. She left her job and started working full time with them. Since then, she, as Founder and Chief Enabler, and her husband, as CEO and Co-founder, have never looked back. In 2004, the organisation started opening jobs for people with disabilities and became a ‘placement cell’ for the Government of Karnataka for persons with disabilities.
There is always a solution and we look for it actively and that is what brings the change. Nowadays if you go to rural areas, you will see thousands of persons with disabilities working, thanks to the work that we have done with other NGOs. So, do not be surprised if you see a Panchayat Development Officer who is blind or if you find women with a severe disability give you petrol at their grocery shop, she said.
EnAble India helps people with disabilities by offering them work-related experiences, providing them with networks and contacts and teaching them crucial workplace skills using tools and technology according to their specific challenges. It reached out to students in the last year of graduation who will soon be looking for a job, in order to provide them career counselling and train them as per their aptitude. They are also contacted by people through their website, social media, local governments, other NGOs or directly at their office. While talking about how the organisation works and the process of upskilling people with disabilities and assisting them in finding jobs, Dipesh Sutaria, Co-Founder and CEO EnAble India said,
There are 21 types of disabilities and each disability has different needs, for example, a visually impaired person is an audio learner, a hearing-impaired person is a visual learner. Adding to it is the complexity of livelihood. So, in order to address the diverse problems, we came up with a honeycomb structure that looks at the different needs of a person with disabilities as a different cell of the honeycomb. For example, we have a programme called EnAble Vision which aims to identify and address all the needs that a visually impaired person may have in order to become independent and empowered and find livelihood options for them. We have other programmes like EnAble Deaf, EnAble Gramin, EnAble Vani, EnABle Academy. Each of these programmes is led by a person with disabilities.
The organisation not only upskills the persons with disabilities but also train other stakeholders in their lives like family members, teachers, employers and local governments to help create a favourable environment for them. They conduct workshops and demonstrations on the use of technology and innovative solution and help the stakeholders incorporate those in their daily life.
According to Mr Sutaria, the biggest challenge that EnABle India faced was to change the narrative around the capabilities of people with disabilities. In order to address the challenge, the organisation focuses on upskilling and preparing the people with the most severe disabilities first. Once they get jobs, finding placements for others become easier, he said.
Some years ago, we worked with 10 very difficult disability candidates and we got them placed at a Multi-National Company. The process of training them according to their needs, upskilling them and finding suitable roles for them took about one year. About a year after that, something interesting happened. The hiring manager from that company came to us to hire more people and asked us if we can give them someone with “normal disabilities”. We started wondering what is this normal disability. Then we understood that once we get the people with the most difficult disabilities employed, it was comparatively easier to get placements for people with more common disabilities like visual impairment, hearing impairment and others. This is how we strive to change the narrative, by not just providing the solution, but a vision.
Mr Sutaria talked about how they learn from their candidates and use that learning in creating training modules for others. He said,
There is a lot that we can learn from persons with disabilities when it comes to finding solutions. For example, once I was addressing a class of visually challenged people, I asked them how do they identify their toothbrushes in the morning because being blind, they cannot see the colour. So, one person said they wrap a rubber-band around the neck of the toothbrush, feel and pick it up; another person said, I put a scratch at the bottom, feel it and pick it up. So, these are some very simple solutions.
While talking about the importance of integrating persons with disabilities into the mainstream and making them economically independent, Mr Sutaria said that India is sitting on a huge, untapped pool of talented people with disabilities, that can play a crucial role in the country’s growth. He added that almost 3-4 per cent of the country’s GDP is foregone by not including persons with disabilities in the working sector.
EnAble India is creating an ecosystem to make those with disabilities live with dignity and feel like one among the others in society. The organisation has helped over 72,500 with disabilities across over 350 locations in 28 states of India to get A job and become financially independent. The NGO has collaborated with 725 companies and 229 partner organisations across 1,050 locations in 27 countries to provide placements to people with disabilities.
According to Ms Raghavan, the salary of the persons with disabilities placed by EnABle India range from minimum wages to Rs 66 lakh per annum. Most of the placements occur in finance, banking and the IT sector. EnAble India now has a number of corporate social responsibility funders, such as J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Accenture.
It is important to see and acknowledge what the persons with disabilities are doing. They have gone beyond their limits, they are able to see themselves now, even the society is able to see them – as an employee, as a parent, as a volunteer, as an active citizen, and as a tax payer. I think we must look at the way they have come and discovered themselves. So, I feel like saying, Yo! see this, celebrate this. I think what we need to learn from this is, go beyond the limits, find joy in every step of the way. So, our main impact, along with enabling so many stakeholders and persons with disability, is to shift the narrative of how we view a person with a disability and what the person can do. It is the celebration of the human spirit,” said Mr Raghavan while signing off.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.