How to matchmake between disabled people and employers? Experiences from India (part 1)

One of the real concerns for disabled people in Bangladesh is that of employment. At every level, from those who have little or no education, to those with postgraduate degrees, getting and maintaining a livelihood is tough. By choice or by accident, employers often aren’t ready to employ disabled people. They don’t think that people with disabilities can do the work, and they’re often not ready to make the necessary adaptations. What can be done? On a trip to India I came across great examples of organisations that are bridging this gap.

This is the first of two posts on the subject – in this one I give the outline of problem and solution. In the second, I look at what type of matchmaking we want.

The problem: neither disabled people nor employers are ready.

The situation we find ourselves in is quite bleak – one where both the market and state are failing. The state hasn’t been able to provide basic services to disabled people, and the market isn’t able to take advantage of this potential workforce.

People with disabilities when they start seeking employment are “mostly very raw” as one person put it. Even when they have educational qualifications, they are likely to have more limited life experience with fewer social contacts than their non-disabled peers. A result of this is that they won’t really know much about what careers are available or how to get into them. Beyond this they may not be able to use related services – like the transport required to travel to employment or training. And finally, they themselves may not be ready for a workplace mentality; they might not believe that they can push themselves and achieve.

Employers have quite a range of motivations in regards to employing or not employing people with disabilities. Some employers will reject outright candidates with disability; others are keen to employ for charity-related reasons; and some believe that disabled people can work well. In both employers with positive and negative attitudes towards disability there are likely to be low expectations for disabled people, and a tendency to stereotype people to roles based on their impairments. Companies will often have quite low accessibility and limited inclusion measures. And, finally, employers might not be clear on which elements of work-flow and job-descriptions are necessary and which can be adapted.

What does the matchmaker do?

Disabled people make a pretty fragmented population – they aren’t all in the same place, and they’re all in quite diverse situations. Routes into employment are quite limited and expect a certain profile of candidate. So you need to work with disabled people from the situation they’re in to strengthen them, and you need to try to make a bit wider or more flexible the routes into employment.

Part 1 – preparing disabled people.

Developing the ability of disabled people to take employment can involve a range of measures. The organisations I met suggested this can be anything from a few hours or days to over 6 months. To meet the challenges above, you need both soft-skills and technical-skills to prepare you for the workplace. Some of the soft-skill development will be helping people adapt a bit better to their disabilities in the workplace. Enable India stressed a big part of this is developing confidence and aspiration, which they try to do from the first interaction. An interesting method used here is encouraging disabled candidates to do volunteer social work – showing they can contribute, too, and aren’t just objects of charity.

There are a bunch of challenges to developing the ability of disabled people to take employment. It may take a long-time – even after 6 months of preparation not everyone will be ready. Even after someone has gotten into work, they may need further support in retaining and developing there careers. And it’s really easy to get things wrong here. Unfortunately, there are plenty of organisations that prepare people with disabilities with skills that aren’t relevant to the workplace and won’t help them get employment. And there’s always the danger that if you do something specific for disabled people you will be limiting their choices and encouraging a segregation.

Part 2 – working with employers.

Working with employers requires a mix of both advocacy-type measures on changing attitudes and convincing people to make change as well as demonstrations of specific techniques and methods for effective inclusion.

Advocacy can be performed in a number of ways – this page gives a background on both the human rights and the business case reasons for employing persons with disabilities. Some employers will do it to make a contribution to society, or to change in people’s lives. Some will do it because they see that it will contribute to their organisation and profit. And some employers will be thinking both things at the same time.

Technical support includes some ideas about accessibility. Beyond that, there are things on supporting redesign of work-flow (see my post on redesigning the fishing pole in a call centre). Job analysis is one method used to see what the different components of each job are – this can identify minimum requirements as well as indicating possible changes that can be made to include different candidates. One nice example mentioned that of supporting people with hearing or speech impairments to work in the service industry – an image board was developed with all the common options on it, so customer and server could communicate through pointing at the images.

I see the advocacy and technical support as quite linked. Specific examples are very convincing to employers. As well as changing mindsets, they give practical ways that similar challenges have been overcome elsewhere. For employers to work on these issues it needs a combination of belief and problem solving across the organisation. One way that this often gets summarised is in the need for “commitment of senior management”, but perhaps this is short-hand for effective processes for making change across the organisation.

That’s too much already for one post… My second post asks what this means for the rights perspective and creating partnerships.

The organisations I met

I was lucky enough to talk to several organisations working on this. Thanks to all the colleagues who gave me time to share their experiences. While I’ve written it up in my own way (hopefully without distorting anyone’s positions), the content of this blog-post comes from them. Keep up the good work!

  • Enable India, an NGO providing employment services. Thanks to Subbiah, Vidya and Javed for being generous in sharing their experiences.
  • Leonard Cheshire Disability South Asia, which works with livelihood resource centres and has a web-portal. Thanks to Aji and Revathy for being open with their time and ideas.
  • v-shesh, a private company providing employment services. Thanks to Shashaank for an engaging discussion and the ideas around market and state failure.

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