Project Equal Access

Delhi’s CM Sheila Dixit at the first Equal Access meetThere
are many talented, capable people who are physically disabled, and the chances
of their getting a job are abysmal.

Equal Access hopes to change that. The project, launched by the National
Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and Dataquest
publishers Cyber Media, has made a start with sensitizing employers to the issue–and
to the talent they are missing out on when they turn a blind eye to the
disabled.

The first Equal Access steps were two high-profile round-table meetings in
Delhi and Bangalore, involving the chief ministers and top infotech CEOs. The
New Delhi meeting in September 2000 included CM Sheila Dixit, and the Bangalore
breakfast meeting in January 2001 was at chief minister SM Krishna’s house.
CEOs of leading IT companies got together to discuss the issue of creating equal
opportunities for the handicapped.

Enabling Equal Access

CEOs who attended the Equal Access
Meet agreed that there was a need to:

  • Create awareness about the issue
  • Develop a model for becoming a disabled-friendly company including
    sensitization, accessibility and HR policies
  • Provide assistive technologies
  •  Provide special training for people with disabilities.
The government of Delhi and
Karnataka promised to consider:
  • Setting up a cell for disabled people in the IT department
  • Providing accessibility features for software parks (STPs)
  • Creating specialised IT training institutions for disabled people
  • Providing tax rebates for disabled-friendly companies.
Several participating companies
responded immediately:
  • Philips Medical Systems (software division) decided to include
    “equal-opportunity for the disabled” in its recruitment
    ads
  • Microsoft said it would work to ensure that a part of the Bill
    Gates’s donation to the rural sector would be used for
    institutions working on disability
  • BT pledged to collate and disseminate information on
    disability-friendly telecom products.
For the proposed Special Training
Institution:
  • Cisco agreed to provide networking equipment
  • SGI said it would provide hardware
  • E-gurucool.com offered the educational expertise
  • HOPE offered to hire disabled drafting professionals if ITIs could
    provide training.

What emerged from these conferences was that the IT industry could provide
ample employment opportunities for the disabled: about a fifth of the jobs are
not impeded by most physical disabilities. Companies need more
disability-friendly policies and the office environment needs to be sensitized
to the issue.

The project’s next step is a web site run by Cyber Media. The Equal Access
site, www.cioljobs.com/equalaccess,
provides a platform for the disabled to be employed by the IT industry. It lists
jobs opportunities for the disabled, at no charge to employee or employer. It
also lists links to aid organizations, guidelines and resources, and other IT
media coverage of the disability issue.

Mala Bhargava, Computers@Home’s executive editor who has been actively
involved in the project points, says it’s important to understand that the
project is about equal opportunity and unused talent, and not about charity.
“Equal Access is not about throwing a few crumbs off society’s bountiful
tables to the less privileged,” she says. “It’s about tapping a
wealth of existing talent.”

Meghna Sharma in New Delhi

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