Thinking Different

Shanti Raghavan, founder of EnAble India, speaking at NASSCOM 2007, gives very simple and lucid examples of Workplace Solutions – innovations that open doors in more ways than one – and how it adds value to the company.

[This is a video posted on YouTube, and you will need your speakers on. A transcript follows]

TRANSCRIPT:

Now just to give you an example of what a workplace solution is – I’m using a non-IT example because it drives the point home.

Customer service attendant at Shell. He has to talk to customers, and provide service like filling petrol.

Now, can this be done by a hearing impaired person? Is this a job opportunity?

Well, if you think a little differently, that his goal is to communicate, not to talk necessarily, then the answer is simple. What we have, we’ve designed with the help of Shell, we’ve designed a wipable communication board which the hearing impaired person has. He has this thing which says Hi, I’m hearing impaired, and he has this board, and the board is very simple. All you do is you tick: I want petrol, these many rupees and you tick Credit Card or whatever. It’s efficient, and you and the hearing impaired person have communicated to each other.

That’s a workplace solution, and it’s this powerful. And see the innovation, but so simple.

And what’s the result? Shell has therefore more candidates it can choose from, and there are more job opportunities, now, for the hearing impaired, which didn’t exist before. And because of this, we’ve been able to scale with Shell. We’ve gone to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and in fact, I’m doing it right now, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, and it’s growing. So that is how powerful it can be, just with one solution, this is what we can achieve.

I’ll give you, very quickly, an IT example, ITES example actually.

A technical helpdesk person is a co-ordinator, who takes information saying that – Oh you have a problem with your computer, you have a problem with your Citrix, notes it down in a Web-tracker or something, a mechanism like that, and then does a follow-up and co-ordination.

Now is this a job that can be done by the visually impaired?

Well, they have to “see” the computer. Or is the goal that he should “use” the computer? If the answer is Yes, use the computer, then there is accessible technology. We just need the workplace solution on how it can be done differently. There are screen-readers for the blind, which allow the computer, in very simple terms, to be a talking computer. So he or she can use the computer just like you or me. Add to that, the fact that he has to talk to the customer and he has to listen to the computer… Very simple; what we did was, we actually provided him with a hands-free headset. In one ear, he’s hearing the customer’s voice, in the other he’s hearing the computer voice, and he can shut the computer voice at any time. So here’s a solution that he has.

Is this all that’s required?

We said the second thing was that he requires a barrier-free environment. So what is a barrier? During training, he needs accessible training material. If there’s a Powerpoint presentation, and he doesn’t have access to it, what do we do? So we have different ideas for that. We could have given it to him in Braille, we could have given a scanner and an Optical Character Recognizer and he could read it, or we could just give it to him in soft copy, and he can use the talking computer and listen to the material.

And what we chose, in this case at least, was the soft copy – it was the easiest. So now he has less barriers in his environment.

The last was – during his working, he needs to use the Web-tracker and that should be accessible for him.

[interruption]

So, to have a web-tracker which is accessible, we have some people from Accessibility here, they will tell you that if there are graphics which are labelled, they are not accessible for a screen-reader. So that is all we needed to do, we needed to make sure the Web-tracker is accessible, and what you have is less barriers. So here again is a job opportunity that has actually materialized, for a visually impaired person.

I’m not going to go into this case study – I thought Jerry was going to be here, so I actually had a case study on Mphasis, on how we’re working with them and in the IT department, in their shared services ITES, we are already working with them, and there are many other things in the pipeline.

So the debate is about whether it is CSR policy or economic principle. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I’ll just share my thoughts with you.

When you first become open to disability, I think you’re somewhere at the CSR policy level. When you start doing a focused hiring on disability, and you start getting some candidates – at least you had more candidates than before, so definitely you are seeing value there. When you start doing workplace modifications, the solution is feasible and you agree with it, and so you are open to more disabilities, then, I think it becomes more economically viable. And as your workforce steadily has more people, percentage of people with disability, it makes sense. The model that we are seeing, when we collaborate closely with companies – do all these workplace solutions and barrier free environments, and we spread to multiple locations, companies are really seeing a value. And a lot of companies I showed in the slide earlier, they are seeing benefits because of these collaborations.

I’ll leave you with the last point.

Maybe it’s Utopia, but the fact is that you help to create a bigger pool of tomorrow’s candidates, who know that oh, there are companies out there who will take me if I have the right skills. More importantly, because you have started getting inclusive, your products get inclusive. For example, there could be a bank with an ATM and now you’ve built a ramp and they have the ATM as a talking ATM and that’s helping a person who’s blind, who can actually use the ATM. So now here you have one more consumer, who’s using your product, but more importantly, there’s a multiple benefit. The person who’s old also needs ramps these days. The person who’s illiterate – nowadays I see a lot of garment workers going to the ATM and they have to use it, and they are illiterate – so suddenly your inclusive product is also helping somebody whom you didn’t think it would help.

So I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but maybe Utopia can also be reached.

Thank you.

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Interview With Vidya

I finally managed to nail a perpetually busy Vidya on a Sunday evening, and asked her a few questions. Vidya is Program Manager – Employment at EnAble India and one of the pillars of the organization. Her answers threw light on what really makes EnAble India tick, and the qualities that makes it such a fantastic place to be at.

A little bit about your background

I have done MA in English Literature in open university. I am here at Enable India since 5 years now, and married to a low vision person. My low vision was diagnosed when I was 7-8 years old. Till the sixth standard I was ok, almost a topper in class, I was a good and an active student. Later when my vision deteriorated, it was difficult to understand what was happening. I had to rely on my brothers and mother. The school people were also very good. By the time I came to college, I was not understanding the low vision problem very well. I developed a kind of inferiority complex. Somehow I did my PUC because a couple of my school friends were also there. After my PUC, I was not confident enough to go out. I felt I couldn’t do anything independently. I had to sit at home thinking I had no option. I took BA through correspondence, but I didn’t get a proper coach. I went on searching for a coach. My parents also were confused, they didn’t know what to do – I am not blind, but I am not sighted either. My brother and mother couldn’t help at this stage. For three four years I was at home. I thought nothing could be done. I developed depression because I am the kind of person who always wants to keep herself occupied and do something meaningful. I went for music class and Reiki class just to keep myself occupied. My circle widened through that. My family was very protective also. They never used to send me alone. That’s how I grew up – lack of confidence, protectiveness, etc.

How did you first get to know about EnAble India?

I started learning Braille at Mathruchaya. I learnt about EnAble India through a former student of Enable India, who told me that I could learn computers. So I went to EnAble India, and I was so amazed when I was typing, that I could actually do something on the computers. I later went to NAB for a certificate course. One day I went to Mitra Jyothi, and they were looking for a project co-ordinator. I did a two month project. Then I was sent by Mitra Jyothi to Enable India to upgrade my skills so that I could be a good trainer. I was interacting on a daily basis with Shanti ma’am, and I strongly felt that this was the right place to be in. I didn’t know why I was feeling that, but I knew I wanted to be with Enable India. The feeling was mutual. So in 2004 I started working with Enable India.

How has EnAble India made a difference to your life?

Definitely. In many, many ways. I got the personal benefit of understanding the efficient ways of working on computers, the various ways of thinking, analyzing, etc. I was a typical fresher out of college. When Shanti ma’am used to talk to people, when she used to interact, and ask questions, at every single point of time I went on learning. I’m still learning, and I enjoyed those kind of learnings. Personally it helped me boost my confidence, improve my skill sets, identify my own potential, learn how to work with people, how to deal with anybody for that matter.
I found there is some meaning when you are talking to someone with lot of love. Any human being needs love. But the disability sector needs more love. Apart from keeping myself occupied and doing some meaningful work, at the end of the day, I always felt satisfied. I used to enjoy my work, there was lot of enjoyment. The most important thing that I always like about Enable India is that I can raise my voice and say that this is something that I want, or no, I don’t want that. There is a high comfort level. I was always a good leader. Here also, from day one to now, I’ve always been a leader. I can be myself and contribute with a lot of pride. It has made a tremendous difference, and completely changed my life and way of thinking.
I would like to say that it has affected my husband also. [laughs] I keep talking about positive thinking and so many things like that. All the learnings I get at Enable India, I share with him, and he also uses it, and it has also affected him in a very nice way. He was also low-vision, he was also a typical fresher, and when he joined his company, he also faced a lot of issues at the beginning. We used to have lots of discussions, and based on the learnings I had got, I used to tell him that no, this is not the way, do it this way. So, it has affected our personal life very well because the understanding between us is very good.

What is the one thing that you really like about EnAble India?

The one thing I really like about EnAble India is the unconditional love that we give. Recently when we were talking about values of EnAble India, I felt about the purity of heart. When I talk to any candidate, anyone, it is with a lot of purity, without having any judgement. That is something which touches me always. The other thing which I don’t want to miss out is the leadership. Leadership meaning that anyone can be himself/herself. Anyone can find the comfort in EnAble India.

What do you think the future holds for you and EnAble India?

[laughs] I have to think about this.
In terms of EnAble India growing, what I personally feel is that the process that we follow today has a lot of loopholes. Over a period of time, two-three years, I would like to see that the process properly working. Any small thing that we do, it affects the employment of anybody sitting anywhere. It could be a phone number, it could be anything. If I don’t do it right today, that affects a person. In terms of EnAble India’s growth, I would like to see all the processes working well. And the same thing should get implemented elsewhere. Today we are in Bangalore, with a small wing in Hyderabad. EnAble India has plans to start in other cities also. The same process should be mirrored in the other places also. In Bangalore we started with a very small setup, and there were so many challenges. I don’t want that to happen in the other places.
I would like EnAble India to set an example in the NGO sector – that an NGO can function so well with a small setup, but with the right attitude and the right energy that is required on a daily basis. One organization with twenty-thirty people cannot place 7 million candidates in the country. We may not be able to touch every single person. But I want to spread the word across the country that there is an organization who cares for you, there is this humanity here. It’s not just about getting trained or getting a job – there is a lot of importance given for humanity. I have seen, there is no respect for the disabled people – they are treated very, very badly. I would like to see EnAble India setting an example across the NGO sector, that wow – if you go to EnAble India, you feel comfort there. That is how I see the growth of EnAble India.
I am in the process of thinking about my growth in EnAble India. I am more action oriented. I would like to be more structured in what I’m doing. I have worked as Computer Trainer for two to two and a half years. Today, I am handling employment. Once the processes are in place, I would like to see myself in a different role. Maybe someone who can handle public relations. It also depends on what is required at that time.

Thank you, Vidya. It was a pleasure talking to you!

– Anitha Murthy

A Letter from Tirupati

I am G. Vamshi, a visually challenged person from Tirupati, A.P. I am writing this letter to express my wholehearted gratitude towards the great organization, Enable India. I didn’t know about computers till my 25th year. Even though I started to learn basic applications like word and excel, I lacked the knowledge of internet as it required knowledge of Jaws to use internet.

In 2007, I first visited Enable India and had the pleasure of meeting people like you and Vidhya madam. It was then that Vidhya madam evaluated my computer skills and decided that I was very poor in using Jaws, though I am still not good at using Jaws. But she gave me some CDs for learning internet which was the key step in my life. With the help of those, I learnt internet, E-mail, Google search, etc.

With that knowledge, I came to know about lists like Access India through Google search and have been an active member of that list for the past one year. I gained a lot of knowledge as a result of my association in it. It was great to know about people like Rajesh, Harish, Kanchan, Subramani, Srinivasu — and had been fortunate enough to stay in touch with them.

And the more important thing I wanted to tell you was that, with all the knowledge I gained through the above mentioned process, I managed to get a job as an assistant in State Bank of India. It couldn’t have happened without the start Enable India gave me in my life.

So, for my satisfaction, I am donating half of my first month’s salary to our organization and the other half to a mentally retarded rehabiliation center in Tirupati. Now that I got a permanent source of income, I promise to contribute more frequently in whatever little manner I can to Enable India. I wish Enable India brings light in many more lives of visually challenged community.

Though I haven’t got relevant words to express my gratitude, I think I communicated what I wanted to. I swear, I am much more grateful than what you have read in this letter.

Enable India is happy and proud to be associated with Mr Vamshi’s achievements, and we thank him for allowing us to reproduce his letter here, so that it can serve as inspiration to many other candidates. All the best, Mr. Vamshi!