Disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Poor people are more likely to become differently abled and people with disabilities are among the poorest and most vulnerable group of population mainly due to the lack of access to education, skills and employment opportunities. To break this vicious cycle of poverty and to make PWDs included in the mainstream, it is important for all institutions of the society to be more inclusive and accommodative.
We need not create anything new to accommodate persons with disabilities, but, we need to remove all the barriers that prevent their access. This means designing for buildings, processes, programs or services inclusively. If existing physical structures, systems, or attitudes create barriers, they must be removed. Where it is impossible to remove barriers without undue hardship, special arrangements must be made so that persons with disabilities can fully participate. This is what we consider as “accommodation.”
From our minds and hearts, we should remove the assumptions that a person cannot perform a task because of his/her disability. With the right accommodations and support, anyone can be productive. In terms of accommodation, the person with the disability knows best what he or she needs. Hence, accommodation should be done considering that each person is unique and the needs of the PWDs must be considered, assessed and accommodated individually.
Respect for the dignity of persons with disabilities is the key to preventing and removing barriers. This includes respect for the self-worth, individuality, privacy, confidentiality, comfort and autonomy of persons with disabilities.
Employers have a responsibility to maintain workforce diversity for increased adoptability and for effective execution of tasks and accommodating persons with disabilities forms an important part of ensuring workforce diversity. Thus the onus of the employer is to consider the needs of the PWDs upfront so that they can be included in the workforce. This means designing of programs, buildings, processes and services inclusively.
Accommodation during the recruitment and selection process:
- Make reference to disabilities in your workplace diversity policies
- Look beyond traditional, mainstream sources for job applicants
- Post the job ad in alternate formats
- When you schedule each job interview, ask if the applicant has any accommodation needs
- Ensure the interview site is accessible
- Focus on skills, abilities, expectations and desired outcomes
- Instead of asking if an applicant can fill the job requirements, change the wording and ask how they will fulfill the job requirements
- Make your selection process consistent for all applicants
Accommodation once employed:
- Attendant services
- Adaptive technology
- Converting printed matter to alternative media and reader services for employees who are blind
- Workspace and furnishings appropriate to the nature of the disability
- Interpreters for deaf and hearing-impaired employees
- A quiet workspace
- Flexible work arrangements and frequent breaks
Role of Educational Institutions:
“Everyone has the right to education” says the Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This cannot be stated more clearly. It is a human right in itself and is indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. People with disabilities face specific challenges in the pursuit of their right to education resulting in a reduced access to mainstream education which denies their access to employment opportunities. To make education accessible to everyone there is a great need for transforming our educational institutions and learning centers. Educational institutions must remove all the barriers that deny the physical access of PWDs by adopting appropriate designs and by adopting relevant teaching practices that cater to all.
Educational institutions must ensure that their facilities and services are accessible, that appropriate, effective and dignified accommodation processes are in place, and that students who require accommodations because of their disabilities are accommodated to the point of undue hardship. The institutions should have special educational plans and in specific cases they should also have individualized educational plans.
Education curriculum also needs to be redesigned and appropriate teaching tools and methodologies should be used for facilitating students with disabilities access education.
Role of corporates:
Corporates must adopt workplace diversity policies and consider accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities so that they can access the employment opportunities. Further, corporates must educate all the employees on the importance of having diverse workforce for enhancing flexibility and effectiveness of operations.
Role of Civil Society Organizations:
The major role that CSOs can play is of policy advocacy. There is a great need for policies and programs that align to the needs of persons with disabilities. They should advocate with the governments and private sector to allocate appropriate resources to support the persons with disabilities. Having a wide grassroots presence and a rich understanding of the needs and necessities of people in general and that of vulnerable people in specific, CSO can work with the government and non-government organizations to accommodate those needs. Promoting community based organizations with the persons with disabilities and empowering them to access their rights is the major task that CSOs should take up. Conducting awareness programs and workshops with corporates and educational institutions to educate them on the issues of PWDs is another major role that CSOs can play. CSOs should also take up the responsibility of empowering and educating the care givers, families and communities where these persons with disabilities live so that there is better understanding and greater facilitating environment for inclusion of people with disabilities.
The key to all efforts of accommodating persons with disabilities is to focus on the ability rather than the disability. A facilitating environment is a must for inclusion of persons with disabilities and improving their productivity. Organizations must realize that having diverse workforce is actually a facilitating factor for improved productivity and flexibility. It is not only in the interest of the PWDs, but also for the benefit of companies and society, the persons with disabilities must be accommodated. After all, everyone has the right to education and the right to livelihood and the efforts to accommodate persons with disabilities should be done as a matter of enabling them exercise these rights, not as a matter of charity.
K Bharathi is a social development, livelihoods and CSR professional with about fifteen years of experience in CSR, institution building, programme design, livelihoods assessment, designing of livelihood interventions, implementation of food security programs, implementation of gender programs and health and nutrition programs, livelihoods of disabled, report writing, developing Community Resource Persons, management of SHG federations etc. She specializes in designing livelihoods interventions, promoting Self-Help Groups (SHG) and their Federations etc. She also has developed and delivered various trainings related to CSR programs, SHG management, livelihoods and food security.