The NCPEDP-Mindtree Helen Keller Awards were started in 1999 to encourage the employment of people with disabilities. The award recognizes individuals with disabilities and corporate for promoting employment opportunities for disabled people. Over the years, these awards have come to be recognized as the most prestigious Indian benchmark for honoring people and organisations who have made remarkable strides in creating inclusive environment for persons with disabilities.
The awards are bestowed on the eve of International Day of People with Disabilities, which is observed on December 3rd, every year. This year, the award was sponsored by Mindtree Limited.The winners were Accenture, Aegis, CISCO, EMC, State Bank of India and Synchrony Financials.
The article distils a few insights from the winning organisations and offers practices on how to create an equal opportunity workplace for persons with disabilities.
The five key enablers that are emerging from corporates winning this award are:
- Disability inclusion as a strategic priority: The most important ingredient to create an inclusive work environment is to treat disability as a strategic priority. For this, diversity management principles should form the basis of inclusion programme.One must appreciate that disability inclusion is not just about recruiting people with disabilities, but requires focussed effort from top management and a long-term plan.
For instance, at Aegis, disability inclusion is one of the ‘Key Strategic Agenda’ with a strong commitment from the leadership team, where the Global CEO is the Executive Sponsor of the programme. Further, the company has also appointed Diversity Managers in each geography to ensure sustenance to the programme. Similarly, Accenture has formed ahigh-poweredAccessibility Council comprising of leaders who drive change on the dimensions of attitudinal, physical and technological barriers.
- Inclusive workplace policies: Once the strategy is in place, the organisation should create a policy framework to ensure everyone gets a level playing field at every stage of their career. For a person with disability, it would mean inclusive recruitment process, inclusive meetings and internal events, accessible internal communication, accessible travel and transport, inclusive emergency evacuation and inclusive career development opportunities.
For example, Accenture has aCareer Path Framework to enable a focused approach towards the career development of persons with disabilities. The framework identifies touchpoints/interventions throughout their career life cycle, and includes levers which ensure that persons with disabilities receive the right organisational support and equal opportunity. This includes an accessible recruitment process, focused integration and professional development opportunities. At State Bank of India, the bank has an Inclusion Centre and Grievance Redressal Mechanism for employees with disabilities.
- Accessible work environment: Then comes the imperative of having an accessible work environment which encompasses built-in workplace and IT systems. In addition, the employer should clearly define the process for availing reasonable accommodation and to request for changes in the infrastructure or assistive aids.
As a case in point,Ciscohasa Basic Disability Accessibility Checklist meant to make the infrastructure accessibleat all its locations. This includes dedicated parking spaces, Braille signage for conference room and elevators, ramps, audio announcements in elevators, accessible washrooms, wheelchair assistance for visitors with disability and several other as per the accessibility guidelines.CISO and Accenture have also worked towards creating accessible IT systems by following the WCAG 2.0 standards.
- Awareness and sensitisation: Apart from the inclusive strategies, policies, and infrastructure, sensitisation and disability etiquette training are important enablers of forming an inclusive work culture. Such awareness sessions help the organisation to overcome stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory practices related to persons with disabilities. Sensitisation programmes and disability etiquette training should be part of company’s induction process. It is important to educate and sensitise all levels of your workforce on the value of hiring people with disabilities.
The role model employers have taken measures to create a culture of inclusion through these sessions. For example, CISCO, Aegis, SBI and EMC conduct various programmes for their employees, managers and peers of persons with disabilities to ensure non-discrimination and inclusive work environment.
- Affirmative action: Lastly, the firm should be ready to take affirmative actions and should invest in building a talent pool through training and external collaboration. This calls for going beyond general recruitment strategies and taking initiatives to bring people with disabilities into workforce and increase their representation reflecting the country’s population. Typically, such projects are undertaken in partnerships with NGOs or educational institutions. Due to inaccessible education system in India, all award winners have taken initiatives to conduct skill building programmes for people with disabilities. One of the most commendable examples is of EMC. Under the project, ‘Redefine Abilities’, the organisation has launched a collaborative internship programme for people with multiple disabilities to bring them closer to financial independence.
It emerges from these practices that building a culture of inclusion is more of a question of intent and taking incremental steps than requiring massive investments or radical change.