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'Sops can boost jobs for disabled persons'

by Prasad Krishna last modified Sep 12, 2012 03:51 AM
A recent report commissioned by the government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called for greater incentives to the private sector to boost employment for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Incentives such as grants can be used by the employer to make the workplace more accessible and for providing assistive technologies such as voice software or training.

Lubna Kably's article was published in the Times of India on September 5, 2012. Nirmita Narasimhan is quoted.

The findings and suggestions of the report, 'Livelihood opportunities for PWDs', are expected to be included in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), which aims to be more inclusive. The government sector has a mandatory quota of 3% for PWDs. For the private sector, the PWD Act, 1995, provides for incentives if at least 5% of the workforce comprises PWDs. Here, the government makes payment of the employer's contributions to the Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance for the first three years as an incentive for PWD employees earning up to Rs 25,000 per month.

Some countries have a mandatory PWD job quota for the private sector with penal provisions - Germany (5%), Austria (4%), Poland (6%), Italy (a sliding scale of up to 7%), Spain (2%) and Japan (1.6%). Others like the USA rely on lucrative tax credit incentive schemes. Some, such as Japan use a carrot-and-stick approach and grants are also available to the private sector.

However, experts do not favour a quota regime because of perceived practical difficulties and its failure in the government sector. "There may be practical difficulties for PWDs to execute certain tasks, which would then lead employers to reserve certain types of jobs only for PWDs, leading creation of the kind of stereotypes which we are fighting against," said Nirmita Naraimhan, advocate and program manager, Centre for Internet & Society.

"Only a handful of companies employ PWDs. To boost private sector participation, the PWD employment incentive target (currently 5% of the workforce) must be realistic. Second, lucrative incentives could be a solution," said Javed Abidi, director, NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People).

At this juncture, it is largely corporate philosophy that results in PWD hiring, especially in the hospitality and IT/ITeS sector. Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) has around 150 'Silent Brewmasters'. Other staff members are trained in the basics of sign language for optimal team functioning. "CCD's Silent Brewmasters specialize in brewing because of their heightened sense of smell and vision, thereby ensuring the most visually appealing presentation of our coffees. They are each cafe's best quality controllers," said K Ramakrishnan, president (Marketing), CCD.

"We have 110 PWDs in our team (5% of the total work force across 18 hotels) who are hearing and speech impaired. Initially, they functioned in back office operations, but some innovation such as numbered menu cards helps them interact with customers and results in an overall good factor," said Patu Keswani, chairman and MD, The Lemon Tree Hotel Company.

Nasscom Foundation helps create a proper ecosystem. "Not only are PWDs placed in the IT-ITES sector, but the companies are helped in undertaking accessibility audits, motivated to generate accessible tools and help others get access to such tools," explained Rita Soni, CEO Nasscom Foundation.

E-Vindhya, where 95% of the workforce comprises PWDs and the rest are hired based on their sensitivity towards their PWD colleagues, is perhaps an exception. But other companies are also adopting an inclusive approach. At MindTree and Mphasis, at least 1% of the workforce comprises PWDs. Infosys BPO, Aegis, Wipro, and IBM are some other companies that adopt an integrated approach in dealing with PWD employees.

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