It was around 1994 and I had recently migrated to the United States. My Biology teacher, Mr. Mund, had asked us to write an essay on Darwin’s theory of evolution and he wanted it typed. I was living with my aunt and her family and the only computer in the house was in my cousin’s room. I did not find it appropriate to ask my cousin to stop his game of Solitaire, so I opted for my aunt’s old typewriter that she had found at a garage sale. It was not an electric typewriter, mind you! After a few hours, I somehow managed to type out my 2 page essay. I had no idea how to edit mistakes and started fresh with a new paper every time I misspelled a word. It made a loud CLICK CLICK CLICK noise much to the annoyance of people who were trying to sleep. Much to my disappointment, I received a C.
Fast-forward to 2014, our Bombay office is in a meeting with Mr. Vijaya Gautam, Maharashtra’s Commissioner of Employment and Self Employment and Skill Development (ESE & SE) and his team discussing skill development for people with disabilities. We are discussing ways to enable PwDs to have a mainstream job. The gathering included quite an impressive group of people: Maharashtra’s Commissioner of Disabilities, head of ITI Nagpur, a representative from Nasscomm and founders of Barrier Break and V-Sesh.
We were there in full representation of diversity: male, female, differently-abled, industry, government, and most importantly, android, mac and windows users— each with our iPads, smart phones and laptops of choice. There were a few shocking revelations that day- or at least for me. One was that people with a hearing impairment are completely exempt from taking science and math classes at secondary school level in India. It is because the Indian Science language (ISL) has yet to develop signs to cover those subjects.
Let that sink in for a second.
Out of many hurdles and challenges that PwDs face, the quality of education they receive directly leaves them with very little opportunities when it comes to career choices. We have a long way to go before inclusion and mainstreaming become more than just pretty words.
In trying to address the high level of unemployment of PwDs in India, the government has reserved 3% of all government jobs to PwDs. While there are no problems filling the Class 3 – Class 4 jobs, which are clerical and entry-level roles, Class 2 and Class 1 (higher level) jobs are a different story. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), PwDs prefer government jobs and repeatedly sit for entrance examinations but are unable to pass because the Indian education system is not equipping PwDs with the right skills. Another reason why many state government positions remain unfilled is because the recruitment rule itself is archaic and impractical.
For example, in order for a visually impaired person to apply for a job, clerical or non clerical, a candidate must pass a typing test on a typewriter. A typewriter! The first thought I had was, don’t those belong in a museum? The gasps and wows that followed matched how we felt about the gravity of the issue. There are very few institutions providing typewriting courses and apparently, there have been motions to take this requirement away, but hopefully, that in Indian government time will not mean when typing itself becomes obsolete. An amendment bill to the Indian Person with Disabilities Act of 1995 is due to pass in the next parliament session which is already receiving mixed reviews.
Meanwhile in Maharashtra, we have decided to keep working to remove barriers for PwDs and are bringing together experts from the Industry, government and social sectors to push for reforms.