Using Technology as an Enabler for PwD
Service and User experience Designer working in the Indian disability sector. This blog series is a record of my work @EnableIndia.
I recently attended a workshop and experience zone organised by Enable India @ an MNC. The objective of both the activities was to create awareness about how a Person/s with Disability (Pwd) can become contributing members of the workforce through the use of technology.
Think about it. If you are in India and if you are like me, the majority of times you have interacted with Persons with a Disability is on traffic signals, as beggars.
We do not generally think of Ira Singhal who cleared Civil Services in her first attempt in the general category as a representation of the pwd population.
Unlike the story of Laila in “Margarita with a straw”, a teenager with cerebal palsy who attended Delhi University after being dropped by her mom to college using a modified van, for most pwd accessibility is a challenge. Even if they reach spaces of education after overcoming the accessibility and stigma challenge, they are unable to learn as the trainers do not know how to teach them. As, a result the number of working professionals who reach the end of the tunnel are few and scattered.
Enable India works towards bringing a change in how we have perceived the ability of this minority section of the society. It does that by helping build examples of working professionals who are pwd and influensers in their own right. It also does that through showcasing beautifully how technology can enable a pwd.
Let us first talk about Abilities and inabilities.
We all lie on a spectrum . If you broke your hand, or your child met an accident or your parents old age started to impact their hand eye co ordination, they will all quickly move up and down the spectrum of what is considered as normal. We are all currently abled but at some point, we might not be.
The change in the spectrum would require each one of them to do things differently. This does not mean that everyone at some point will face a disability. It does mean that if you design anything with the disabled in mind - designing so that people with most impairments can have universal access - we can create products better for everyone (Universal Design, Ronal Mace & Pat Moore)
A person with Disability is much better at navigating this spectrum simply because it is personal for them.
If we understand this concept, it is easier to understand how Disability refers to social exclusion of persons with impairments. (I find the term impairment more inclusive because it takes in consideration those with mental as well as physical disabilities.)
1.Staircases are barriers for orthopedically impaired persons.
2.Printed Texts restrict participation of visually impaired persons.
3.Mode of thinking celebrated as normal marginalises those who are labelled as intellectually impaired.
When Taha Haaziq, a government servant was asked about the gap he feels in his life, he talked about the challenge of being just a statistic as a person with blindness working in the Indian government. In his office, nobody expects that he can do the same work as a seeing person, so he is not given any work. The same story goes with Ira Singhal, she cracked her civil servants exam in the first go in the general category but she was not given the department of her choice because “higher authority” in the government determined that she would be incapable of meeting the requirements of her job.
If the above two people were not considered “disabled”, the expectations from both of them at their jobs would be the same as anyone else.
This mindset is one of the biggest hindrance in a pwd earning their livelihood. Enable India works towards breaking these barriers down. When it comes down to becoming a working professional assistive technology enables them to do their jobs successfully.
This is only one of the component of Enable India’s work. A majority of work they do is with countering stereotypes and changing mindsets of employers.
It works with the organization and individuals interested in hiring pwd to explain concepts of inclusion and includability. It explains how employers have to level the playing field first and than expect the same results from all their employees.
It also trains the pwd at their training centres in Bangalore and with their partner organisations. Their employability training is one of the most well thought out training I have ever observed. The training module has been developed keeping in mind the context. What is the context ?
Young persons with low vision, who are from different parts of India, heard about the Employability training at Enable India. These are candidates who are not versed with interacting with the society and thinking of themselves as contributing members of the society. The training raises their aspirations by expecting them to contribute in all spheres all the while teaching them skills.
The candidates design their own training, deciding when and how will they learn english, computer skills, typing etc. along with their peers. Resolving conflicts as professionals by analysing all aspects of a situation. For eg: if the class timing is from 9 a.m.- 6:00 a.m. it is too early for candidates living in paying guest accommodation as they share bathrooms with the office going population in their office. If the class timing is 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.it will be too late for their classmate travelling by bus as his last bus leaves at 6 p.m. Now how do they resolve the situation ?
It also expects the candidates of the training workshop to start thinking about their role in the community. Each candidate is asked to contribute to the community. They are also asked to do things which they have not done before.It helps them grow from a person who thinks about I need help to I can also help.
At the end of the training program, the candidates sit for interviews and use their knowledge acquired during employability / computer training.
I can go on in detail about how Enable India has opened up 275 jobs so far in 27 sectors by analysing the job roles and matching them with right candidates for almost 600 companies, but that is the content for another blog.
I would like to end this blog with something a person with Vision impairment shared with me.
“Just as some members of the society are Non impaired, we are impaired. Its cool.”
You can also check out how we at Enable India are trying to build a knowledge platform for the disability ecosystem through Enable Academy.
P.S. These are my personal views and not the organisation’s. :)