When was the last time you used a typewriter?

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.

Meeting with Maharashtra State Government to discuss reforms in the state's inclusivity policies
Meeting with Maharashtra State Government to discuss reforms in the state’s inclusivity policies

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.

Srijana started her career working in Global Policy and Government Affairs department at Cisco Systems where her role was to identify public policy priority needs in sub-Saharan Africa and define Cisco's policy engagement strategy. Additionally, she was a key player in the development and management of Cisco's environmental sustainability program. She created and drove company wide employee educational campaigns geared towards environmental sustainability. Srijana is also a founder of Friends of El Shadai, an organization based in California, which gives educational opportunity to former street children and HIV/AIDS orphans in a loving home environment in Bugembe, Uganda. Friends of El Shadai recently funded the construction of a building for El Shadai, which 35 children now call home. Through her experience working with Friends of El Shadai, Srijana realized that demand based skills training is just as important as education in countries like Uganda, where unemployment rate is very high. This realization led her to leave Silicon Valley and spend time in India and Nepal researching opportunities to create jobs for individuals living below poverty. After 8 years of working in Silicon Valley, Srijana is delighted to be part of AIF fellows and hopes to bring together her business and public policy experience, with her personal passion for working in development and economic empowerment. In addition to Friends of El Shadai, Srijana is active and on the Board of Sahayeta.Org, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that she co-founded. Sahayeta.Org provides free primary health care screening for immigrants without health insurance and connects them to additional resources, if needed.

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3 thoughts on “When was the last time you used a typewriter?

  1. Srijana,

    I was waiting for this blog to be posted! I’m so glad that somebody on the fellowship is working on such important and relevant issues. While reading this I could hear the passion in your voice and how upset learning these facts made you at the time. Can’t wait to hear how the white paper progresses, and I’m so impressed with all of your work!

  2. Srijana,
    Thanks so much for raising such an important issue. Your blog reminds my visit to an organization based in Delhi which works with differently abled people using latest technology . I was so impressed to see technology was used in various special softwares to make computers, wireless phones, mobiles and sewing machines. Some of the data mentioned in your blog is really shocking…..

  3. I always say few things in India surprise me. But this is beyond even my capacity to understand and more importantly forgive. How can this be I ask myself . What do we need to do give this more publicity?
    Sridar

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