Recently, in the United States, people with disabilities started being a part of a conversation that was, for a long time, unavailable to them: on accelerated career development and job accessibility.
In February 2015, the White House hosted the White House Summit on Disability and Employment. Organised by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative, the Summit reiterated the importance of increasing inclusion for PWDs among the workforce of every federal contractor in the United States whose business with the government brings in at least $50,000.
Starting March 2014, new provisions in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US required all federal contractors to hire at least 7% people with disabilities across all departments in their organisations. Between 2010 (when President Obama issued Executive Order 13548 to increase federal employment of people with disabilities) and 2014, only 50,000 jobs were filled out of the 100,000 projected positions to be occupied by 2015.
"The dignity that comes from contributing to society through our work seemed a value lost from the life of most people living with disabilities."
The need for jobs for people with disabilities is not expressed in the tens of thousands, unfortunately, in a country where nearly 1 out of 5 Americans lives with a disability.
In June this year, the US Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics published new data showing that the employment-population ratio for those with a disability decreased in the past year, while the ratio for people without disabilities increased.
Leaving statistics aside, what's interesting is that providing people with disabilities with more jobs and career opportunities is a challenge less for resources than for mentalities.
The same new data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 33% of people with disabilities are working part-time, compared to 18% part-time workers without disabilities.
Most importantly, the report shows that disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than people without disabilities.
For most disabled people, corporate or professional jobs and careers don't even seem like a real possibility. The reasons are many, and relate to biases as much as they relate to organisational and logistical issues that are needed to create disability-friendly working environments.
On the other hand, disabled people also have a hard time, in the US as much as everywhere else, imagining that they can have a long and rewarding career. For them, their careers either came to an end, or they never really started.
The dignity that comes from contributing to society through our work seemed a value lost from the life of most people living with disabilities.
It was the recapturing of that dignity that motivated my wife, Pavithra YS and me to start Vindhya in 2006. Together, we saw that it is possible for many disabled people to have a professional career.
In almost a decade, we succeeded in creating more than 1000 jobs for people with disabilities (PWDs) living in India and we plan to raise that number to 5000 by 2020.
The difference between Vindhya and the majority of for-profit organizations all over the world is mainly in the resources (both time and money) invested in career development processes geared specifically towards people with disabilities. We have made it our mission to prove to ourselves, to our clients and to our employees that PWDs can have successful and long-term professional lives and contribute to the world's prosperity, just like anyone else.
Implementation of this much needed change is not easy, not because a lack of will, but because companies will have to start doing what Vindhya has been doing for a decade now: create career development processes that include training and internships for disabled employees who will no longer be employed on just "specific" positions, but will have access to all positions across a company's chart.
Before candidates with disabilities are considered and hired for more jobs than were ever available to them before, it's HR directors, talent development executives as well as managers across the organisational chart who will need training. They will need to learn how to manage an employee structure that can not only provide essential disability-friendly facilities, but also change mentalities, so that people with various disabilities can integrate easily and be able to focus on their job.
"What's new is that disabled people will have access to professional positions and corporate jobs where, until now, either NGO work or self-employment were the only career tracks possible."
In Pavithra YS's words, we want to share some of our best practices that give solutions to several conundrums companies across the US are facing and trying to solve today: "Vindhya's new employee induction program starts with a brief intro about the company and the senior management team and also about the customers whom we work for. One of our senior management team members welcomes all new employees on board. We have set aside a classroom we use for the training of new employees, where they are provided with a complete understanding of the work they do, the objective of their job. There are process manuals created by our training and induction team that lays out every single step of the process in a very easy-to-understand manner."
"Only when each new employee fully understands the specificities of his or her job and the product they are working with, they are moved to sit on the floors where the 'real work' happens, and they get trained on the actual day-to-day work we do for our clients. We use the 'buddy' system for all new employees, which has given us good results. The system not only helps the new person learn processes, but interacting with more experienced employees builds self-confidence when the new employee starts working on actual client work," Pavithra adds.
She further explains, "Vindhya offers a certification at the end of each training, which the new employee receives after going through some tests for every single process he or she will be responsible for when doing actual client work. After the training, we build their confidence by giving them small tasks and increase difficulty gradually."
It's clear that US companies need to get ready to welcome more people with disabilities. What's new is that disabled people will have access to professional positions and corporate jobs where, until now, either NGO work or self-employment were the only career tracks possible.
Here's a look at the various roles Vindhya successfully prepares its employees for - we hope that other companies will follow suit and confidently hire and train disabled people for same level of positions throughout their departments.
- Process Associate
- Senior Process Associate
- Customer Support Executives
- Quality Analyst
- Assistant Team Leader
- Team Leader
- Training Manager
- Assistant Manager
- Associate Vice President Operations
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