Tackling the Employment Crisis for People with Disabilities

“It’s not easy getting a job when you have a disability. When you tell a company about your disability they are not likely to move forward. Your options are definitely limited.”

During my time as an AIF Clinton Fellow at Enable India, I’ve learned a lot about one of the most critical challenges that people with disabilities in India face: the lack of employment opportunities. Very few companies are willing to hire a person with a disability, due to social stigma, concerns about productivity, and simply being uncomfortable interacting with people with disabilities. At Enable India, our mission is to create economic independence for people with disabilities, primarily by solving this employment crisis. Our goal is to help every person who comes through our door looking for a job by placing them at a company in a role that they will be able to perform successfully. In the time that Enable India has been operating, we have placed almost 3,000 people with disabilities in hundreds of companies across India. With its years of expertise in this space, Enable India has come up with a variety of strategies and models to most effectively carry out its placements. In this post, I want to shine a light on how Enable India ensures successful placements.

Identifying Partner Employers

Given that Enable India’s work entails placing candidates at companies, developing productive relationships with employers is critical to making sure that placements actually happen. It is crucial that Enable India identifies suitable partners with whom a long-term partnership would be successful. Companies must be willing to learn and work with Enable India to set up hiring practices for people with disabilities, and be able to support those employees after they have been hired.

Initially, Enable India visits the company and identifies which positions within the company can be done by people with disabilities. Then, Enable India’s own candidate pool is examined to compile a list of qualified candidates for the company to interview.

Pradip, one of Enable India’s Deafblind candidates. He was employed at Dell through an internship hiring model along with several other candidates with disability.

Creating Scalable Models

One model that Enable India likes to use is the “train and hire” model of employment: companies agree to train a number of potential candidates for the position that they are hiring for. After the training period is over, the company can then choose which candidates it wants to hire. This model fills a critical skill gap in the candidate pool of people with disabilities, wherein people with disabilities do not have access to the same education and opportunities as the mainstream population. Through this model, all of the candidates in the training batch benefit because they get to learn employable skills, and the company benefits because it gets a new pool of candidates to hire from and fill its labor shortage.

The “train and hire” model goes hand in hand with another model that Enable India finds useful: “bulk-hiring.” Many large organizations often have multiple positions in the same job role that they need to be filled within a particular time frame. A strategy that is commonly used in these situations is “bulk-hiring,” in which many candidates are hired at once through a standard screening process. Bulk hiring has many benefits that make it particularly successful when employing people with disabilities. When a company is hiring a person with disability for the first time, there will be several infrastructure and HR process changes needed in order to successfully hire and support the employee. Bulk hiring of people with disabilities means that the cost of setting up the infrastructure and processes is distributed across all the new hires, instead of just one employee, making the initiative more financially viable. Furthermore, the logistics of having a training program, peer sensitization workshops, and job role accommodations is easier when multiple candidates are involved.

By combining these two models, companies train a number of candidates to fill a job role that they have several open positions for. As they are all being trained for the same job role, the training program can be standardized for all the candidates, reducing cost and improving logistical efficiency. Once the candidates are trained, the company is able to fill many open positions and be confident in the quality of the employees it has just hired. Enable India’s “train and hire” model, when used in conjunction with “bulk-hiring,” is a recipe for success!

Take Advantage of Company D&I Initiatives

Many companies have Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives as part of their company objectives, which often promote the hiring of people with disabilities. A challenge that many of these companies face is finding qualified people with disabilities that they can hire. Since Enable India has access to a large pool of qualified candidates, working with Enable India is a clear win for the company. By reaching out to the D&I team of the company, Enable India is able to get a foothold into the organization and pitch its services as aligning with company goals.

Investigate All Employment Possibilities

When you think about the employees that work at a particular organization, you probably first think about the core employees that are required to produce whatever product the corporation makes. For example, in the case of Microsoft, you would rightly assume that it needs many software engineers in order to develop the software that it sells. What often goes unnoticed, however, is the myriad of employees that perform support roles in the organization to keep functioning efficiently. Cleaning staff must be employed to ensure that the workplace is neat and tidy, kitchen staff is needed to make and serve food for hungry employees, and security personnel is required to guard the premises. In essence, many corporations are microcosms of the larger labor market, spanning the employment spectrum with a wide variety of job roles.

The variety of positions that any large company needs to fill creates a great opportunity for Enable India to employ its diverse pool of candidates. The candidates that Enable India assists come from a wide range of educational backgrounds. Some candidates have not completed 10th standard while others have postgraduate degrees. The diversity of jobs available at a Multinational Corporation (MNC) means that both types of candidates can find employment. Capitalizing on this, the team at Enable India makes sure to identify the full range of employment opportunities at each of its partner companies so that all candidates can be placed successfully.

Large MNCs are typically able to afford the workplace solutions that some people with disabilities need, such as wheelchairs (left) and screen readers (right).

Enable India has been particularly successful in working with large MNCs in the IT and BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance) sectors. These organizations have the financial resources to support specialized programs for people with disabilities and provide accommodations necessary for people with disabilities to be productive. Furthermore, they consistently have large numbers of job openings that they need to fill. Going forward, the challenge will be to expand into new sectors and medium to small companies, where business owners might not have the means or see the value in hiring people with disabilities. This will require new strategies for employment and new approaches to change mindsets. It is here that the bulk of the Indian formal sector exists, so cracking this will expand the options available for millions of people with disabilities to achieve employment.

Anant is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Enable India in Bangalore, Karnataka. For his Fellowship project, he is building scalable products to support economic independence and dignity for persons with disabilities through online tools and resources for employers, employees, and enablers. Anant graduated in 2018 with a degree in computer science and a minor in statistics. He is interested in exploring the applications of technology in solving large-scale social issues as well as the challenges of implementing them in developing countries. Anant has worked at various technology companies and research labs, and is looking forward to both applying the skills that he has gained as well as honing new skills during the AIF Clinton Fellowship. He is excited about his placement with Enable India, where he will be working to empower people with disabilities. While in India, he hopes to experience parts of the country that he hasn't seen in the past and gain a deeper understanding of its culture and diversity.

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