"We all have our barriers. I have mine, you have yours," Sachin Singh, an instructor from Indian Sign Language and Training Centre, conveys in sign language to the audience present at the fourth National Convention of Youth With Disabilities. Singh himself is deaf and his story is an inspiration for the disabled students in the audience from India's top colleges.
The convention, organised by global professional services company Accenture and non-profit organisation National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) on November 9 and 10, was an attempt to instill confidence among these bright minds. The sessions, which addressed subjects such as 'disability and leadership', 'disability identity', 'disability and employment', had people with success stories as panel members and speakers.
As the day progressed, you heard stories of courage, of determination. But when questions were invited at the end of each session, all the hands raised had one common apprehension: career prospects. It was apparent that while most of these students are studying in India's top colleges they are not as confident about placements. Their concern is valid, since there are only a handful of companies in India, which hire disabled people.
"There has been some progress, but very little," says Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, NCPEDP, talking about the change in the employment scenario for disabled people over the years. "When I look at CII, NASSCOM, FICCI and when I ask the strength of member companies, Nasscom alone must have more than 10,000 companies as its members. Are all 10,000 of them inclusive? No, they are not," he says. "Not even 1 per cent of the corporate India is inclusive," he says.
Abidi wants the corporate India to start taking the disability with seriousness that it deserves and make their policies more inclusive, specially in the light of the new law which replaces the earlier PwD Act. Under the new act, it is mandatory for establishments and companies to not discriminate against person with disabilities and ensure that they have equal opportunities. However, the fact remains that India had a disability act since 1995 but the situation has not changed much.
For instance, under the 1995 Act, all the educational institutions in India have a quota of 3 per cent for disabled students. But do these many number of disabled students of take admissions in the schools and colleges? No. According to a survey by NCPEDP, in most of India's top colleges only half a per cent seats are taken by disabled students. The reason experts say is lack of facilities for these students. "Giving admission is not enough. Now, thanks to the law you cannot deny admission, so if a blind or deaf person applies you give admission, but then how does he or she cope?" asks Abidi. "Our curriculum is not accessible when it comes to blind people. Our teaching methodologies are not accessible. Our examination methodologies are not accessible," he adds.
Story of Pratiksha, a wheelchair bound student from Punjab, is a case in point. She lost her legs in an accident at the age of 16 and has been undergoing treatment since then. A bright student, she got admission into one of the top colleges of Delhi University this year and wanted to stay in the hostel, inside the college premises as commuting every day was a challenge for her. Though the college accepted her request to stay in the hostel, they did not allow a live-in help to stay with her. Since she needs assistance for routine activities, Pratiksha took a rented accommodation nearby.
Colleges in India have reservation for disabled people but hostels don't have one and most of these hostels are not disabled friendly. So while a student gets admission in a school or a college, just reaching to his classroom is a challenge for him. Abidi says this is the reason most disabled students in India drop out before high school. And hence when they are dropping out so early, few of them make it to colleges and universities.
Clearly, a concerted effort is needed by the government and corporate India to make out educational institutions and workplaces more inclusive.