Inclusive India, Part I: Changing Mindsets

Over the past nine months, I have supported my host organization Youth4Jobs’ work of increasing employment and livelihoods opportunities for youth with disabilities, in the mainstream workforce and (through my project) now in the arts. With a national network of training centers and thousands of successful alumni, Youth4Jobs empowers youth with disabilities through productive employment and education.

As my understanding of our programs and resources developed, my questions did as well. They split in two directions: the first, logistical; the second, big-picture. To understand how our dedication to accessible and egalitarian livelihoods can extend from individuals to entire industries, I interviewed two people working in the modern inclusion movement in India. Through this and my next blog post, I hope to shed some light on the work being done to build the foundations and establish good practices for stable livelihood opportunities for youth with disabilities.


A young man sits at a computer, his crutches leaned against the desk behind him. Several other employees sit next to and behind him, in front of computers.
A Youth4Jobs alumnus working for Vodaphone in Jaipur. [Image courtesy of Youth4Jobs]
Prachi Mishra is the team lead for one of Youth4Jobs’ signature programs, Corporate Connect. Prachi has been with Youth4Jobs for two years, before which she worked with SOS Children’s Village (Visakhapatnam) as a senior coworker in youth education. This experience inspired her to “explore the opportunities for backward youth in terms of employment and livelihood opportunities,” leading to her current position.

This work is part of her long-term vision. She says, “I have always had the idea to start working on corrective and alternative education, which talks more about how we can provide sustainable skills education.” She contributed to a project in a school for visual impaired students before joining Youth4Jobs in her current position. She now works as the lead for Corporate Connect, Youth4Jobs’ program to educate and sensitize corporations to the benefits of hiring youth with disabilities. Prachi kindly answered some of my questions here:


Priya Charry: What is the mission of Corporate Connect? What services does this program offer?

Prachi Mishra: In 2012 when Youth4Jobs started working with youth with disabilities on employability training, we realized that training youth is not sufficient as the market is not ready to accept them. Slowly we started working with the market on the other side [corporations].

The questions we generally get from corporates:

  • Will hiring youth with disability cost more?
  • What jobs can they do?
  • Are they mentally stable and skilled?
  • Do these youths go regularly to the hospital? [Do they have prohibitive health issues?]
  • Are these youth educated?
  • How can youth with disability work alongside other employees?

To answer these questions and remove the mind blockages from the corporates, Youth4Jobs has created different modules for the corporates:

A room of people sit on bleacher-style seats in a small, red auditorium. They make signs with their hands, raised in the air.
An Indian Sign Language lesson, as part of a sensitization workshop held at Google headquarters in Hyderabad. [Image courtesy of Youth4Jobs]
  1. Rolemapping: We study the job roles available in a particular company and which disability can fit into each kind of job role.
  2. Workplace solutions: It consists of challenges and workplace solutions that need to be done within the workplace to accommodate different disabilities.
  3. Sensitization workshops: Youth4Jobs does sensitization workshops with different managers, supervisors, and team leads to remove the mind blockages towards disability and how to deal with disabled employees in the workplace.
  4. Accessibility audits: We do accessibility audits of the infrastructure to understand how these things work.
  5. Indian Sign Language (ISL) workshops: Customized ISL workshops have been prepared for different sectors.
  6. Recruitment and other follow-up activities

PC: What is a typical sensitization workshop like? What are the participants’ takeaways?

PM: It’s a three-hour workshop that covers different experiential activities towards different disabilities. It’s a kind of eye-opener for corporates (or other targets) to learn about disability and how it works. We get good feedback after the sensitization workshops:

“My perception has changed in terms of employing PwD [persons with disability] positively. My action plan is to explore immediately, partner with Y4J, and employ.” – Swetha Madhavapeddi (HR, Pepsico)

Four people sit in a semicircle, their eyes covered by black blindfolds. They seem alert and listening.
A blindness simulation, as part of a sensitization workshop held at Ikea in Hyderabad. [Image courtesy of Youth4Jobs]

PC: What are the main lessons you want corporates to understand about people with disabilities?

PM: We want them to look at the ability of a person with disability, rather than look at disability; to treat employees with disability as equal to employees with non-disability; and to convert the sentence “Can this person do this job?” to “How can this person do this job?”


Just as Youth4Jobs is still a young organization, Prachi says, “[Corporate Connect] is a very developing program. With each company we gain new experience and try to explore new ways and ideas for dealing with them.” Thanks to the thorough, thoughtful work by Prachi and the Corporate Connect team, each new experience leads to opened minds, employed youth, and a more equitable and just society.

 

My next blog post will explore a corporate perspective on employment of people with disabilities. Many thanks to Prachi for sharing her experiences in this program (and for being a great officemate!).

Priya is a librarian and artist passionate about connecting people with life-changing knowledge, resources, and experiences. She has a master's degree in library and information science, and has worked in public and academic libraries, archives, and arts institutions. As an undergraduate, she spent a semester in Hyderabad studying Indian literature and culture. Her graduate research includes rural Indian libraries, Indo-Caribbean library systems, digital libraries, and services to underrepresented communities. Prior to the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Priya worked as a reference librarian at the Boston Public Library and as a library and archives assistant at Harvard University. She also volunteered as a youth mentor and has played in a variety of world music ensembles. In her free time she enjoys running, cycling, book and paper arts, and exploring her community through food and music. Priya is motivated by the belief that everyone can benefit from community-driven education and public programming, from the neighborhood to the national level. She is excited to join Youth4Jobs in their newest venture and connect young artists of all abilities to allies and employment.

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