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]


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.


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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