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Misplace Sympathy with Actionable Empathy for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs)

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Huge progress has been made towards equality across boundaries of gender, race, and sexual orientation, increased focus on building Diversity, Equity & inclusion strategies, hiring Resources specifically to build a highly inclusive workforce but one important aspect of D&I is too often neglected i.e. those with disabilities. 

Approximately 15% of the world’s population comprises of PwDs but their participation in the workforce is disproportionately low. Worldwide estimates hold that up to 80% are not employed and in India too, the Unemployment rate is over 70%. Though we have so many new Acts and legislations such as The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, The National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, Constitution of India and so on; however not much improvement to improve their literacy level and employment level could be done so far. Even today there are almost 45% of the disabled are illiterate and only about 20% are graduates in India. 

Though there have been ongoing efforts to formalize the direction and develop the PwDs by emphasizing Sustainability Development Goals – an effort towards creating more awareness to empower PwDs to become a productive contributor to society, however, there is a higher order of need to devise more action-oriented strategies for enabling them.  Not just support PwDs through Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives of the Corporates offering sympathy towards their condition and compassion for them but act more empathetically. 

It’s time for us to look at Persons with Disabilities through the lens of competency instead of compassion alone and enable them to ably manage their day-to-day tasks to deliver effectively. The need to be treated as equal and experience workplace equity, deserve the same opportunities as everyone else with a lens of inclusion and infinite possibility to drive business agenda. 

Intending to exhibit empathy towards PwDs, we often end up being judgemental and sympathetic to them. As a collective force, we must address the key issues of those disabled to overcome the challenges and difficulties to deliver the business agendas by creating opportunities for accessibility and inclusiveness as below :

  1. Building an inclusive ecosystem by integrating employers, Govt., Communities, associations, NGOs, and PwDs to enable and empower PwDs

  2. Sensitizing the Organizations and teams towards the need for inclusion and integration  

  3. Focus on accessibility audits by experts to fix an infrastructure gap

  4. Changing interviewing lens and attitude by building on the key strengths and potential of PwDs and not so much on their disability 

  5. Offer advanced technical and digital accessibility, a human right as life support, for PwDs

  6. Drive diversity agendas as business agendas, beyond CSR 

  7. Change the way of doing business to lead with a social cause

  8. Design the accessibility platforms in such a way that they can be used by all people 

  9. Leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to remove biases in the process

  10. Use assistive technologies and software like JAWS, NVDA, Alexa, Dialogue Box to support the Disabled to perform and deliver well

The PwDs are an untapped high potential resource for Organizations. With well-established disability practices, an Organization can have almost 25-30% higher profitability and >20% higher Revenues. Companies Like Lemon Tree, Microsoft, SAP Labs, and many more have started nurturing exceptionally high strengths like disciplined, dedicated, heightened senses, sharp memory, loyal, committed, perseverance persisted, highly focused, sincere, hardworking, and display extraordinary ability to comprehend and deliver. 

Therefore, we need to attune our attitude toward Persons with Disabilities, treat them as normal human beings. They do not require pity, mercy, or sympathy but require an opportunity to live a life with dignity and financial independence. We must build Disability awareness, demystify disability, be more aware of the messages we are communicating, especially when dealing with someone different from ourselves and ensure that public places are accessible to them so that they are not deprived of any opportunities.

Corporates can become Magnet for talent by being Inclusive workplaces having a broader customer base, spurring more innovation, offering a better quality of life for all. Positive culture of support and inclusion can lead to a highly competitive, committed, compassionate workplace and be a role model to all other Organizations promoting diversity and inclusion not only in gender, race, ethnicity but inclusive with PwDs too. 

Author – Swati Yadav

A global HR Transformational leader with 20 years of experience in varied industry segments including Large scale manufacturing, Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Telecommunication, Consulting – IT & FMCG in India and Europe.

As an Executive Coach, my passion is to build businesses through leadership alliances.

“Embrace each challenge in your life as an opportunity for self-transformation”

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