By Kavitha Srinivasa
What prompted you to work in the PwD space? Please give me a backgrounder
In 1992, my brother Hari was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RPT), a degenerative disease that eventually robbed him of his vision. He was then 15. My husband Dipesh Sutariya and I helped Hari become independent and build a future for himself.
We were software engineers working in the US. Hari came over to the US and did fun activities and adventure sports like snorkeling. He also indulged in kayaking by being in a two person kayak. In his next trip, he learnt to use a computer with a screen reader. He returned to India with a positive feeling that he can do anything. This belief led him on to do MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies where he topped the class. He did well in group discussions, yet he couldn’t get a job. Today Hari is a global alliance manager at a leading company. Meanwhile we returned to India (Bangalore) in 1997. In 1999, EnAble India was registered as a citizen sector organization to enable persons with disability. In January 2004, I moved out of the corporate job to focus on EnAble India.
What are your technology innovations, skill trainings, new workplace solutions and behavioural change tools that have changed the lives of PwDs in India?
We work on the philosophy of workplace solutions, which enables the disabled person to overcome barriers at work. We have created business solutions to make sure the PwD is employable. All our PwD do community service where they give back to society. Some have provided clothes for flood affected areas, some have repaired the street lighting and footpaths of some areas in Bangalore, some have painted government schools, worked at an old age home or orphanage and more. In the process of doing this, they have to work towards targets, work in a team, work out of their comfort zone and they realize their own potential and are able to find solutions for the barriers which are posed due to their disability.
The training module helps mould individuals positively, with the right attitude. Along with behavioural changes, we also have peer sensitization.
Peer sensitization helps the company to understand more about the person with disability who is joining their team. The employees get comfortable with the PwD and relaiaze that he or she is person just like them with an interesting personality and learn how to work effectively with each other.
The positive effects of employability were seen during recession year, a company wanted contract trainees. We sent 14 of our employable candidates and all were chosen. They all did so well that almost all of them were retained in the company after the contract got over while the persons without disability were not retained. That was the turning point which showed us that a good product will always “sell”.
All this has been possible due to tech interventions. For instance we have found solutions to make a visually impaired read a cheque. Through screen readers, they work on the computer. A person who cannot move any part of their body is working productively using workplace solutions.
What led to the development of MPAS & how was it developed? How does MPAS work?
Several interactions with the visually impaired have led to the development of MPAS, an acronym for multi point audio switch. This is our latest offering and is yet to go commercial.
MPAS has been developed keeping in mind that visually impaired individuals have to deal with multiple devices at the workplace. For instance, MPAS can handle multiple devices like mobile, PC, laptop and telephone. It has Braille inscriptions and the visually impaired person can listen to the screen reader and mobile/telephone simultaneously.
What is the job scenario for PwDs in India? Do you have a tie up with placement agencies? How does it work?
Before Enable India began, in the livelihood segment, most persons with disability especially severely disabled were getting jobs via reservations / quota in government / Public sector undertaking (PSU) jobs. Our organization opened up the private sector and made companies understand the business value in hiring persons with disability especially severe sensory disabilities.
In the process, we have changed the mindsets of 700+ companies and built a network with universities and government agencies. We have improved the lives of 220,000 stakeholders including 50,000+ individuals with disabilities.
This became a reality because we have set the stage for such a move. Through our EnAble Academy, we provide training and interactive tools. Example, the EYE tool is a self learning tool for people with vision impairment to learn computers. This has 450+ practical exercises which allow the blind person to become efficient @ a workplace. Another example would be Tutorials for trainers of persons with disability. Then, there are employer kits for companies and more for persons with disability to make them ready for livelihood opportunities. This has been made possible through a framework that helps us understand requirements of that particular disability. This in turn, is used to customize a livelihood model suited for a specific disability. Several disabled persons are in the fringe areas. Self employment models have been created for them. An entrepreneurship development program was introduced with the help of mainstream entrepreneurship training centers like the RUDSETI/RSETIs. Job fairs conducted in urban and semi-urban areas help find wage employment.
How many livelihood options have you created? What are your forthcoming plans?
PwDs come to us through a word-of-mouth publicity. In rural areas, the village rehabilitation centre connects us. EnAble India has impacted livelihoods across 14 disabilities in the country. We have a rural social networking platform called Namma Vaani in Karnataka and Hamari Vaani in North India where PwDs can network even without a Smartphone.
This is how it works. By giving a missed call to Vaani platform, they get a call from an interactive voice response (IVR) system. The PWD can listen to “posts”, like or share the “posts” and also record their own “posts” where they share information or crowdsource solutions for their problems and more.
What is your dream for India?
I dream of an inclusive India, a place where everybody realize their own value and feel valued. I look to each person with disability to maximize their value by being change makers and nation builders which in turn will help all of us realize the same.
Shanti Raghavan and Dipesh Sutariya of EnAble India won the Social Entrepreneur of the Year India 2019 Award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.