This year's NCPEDP - Shell Helen Keller Awards were given away by P Chidambaram, Union Home Minister, on a typical wintry morning in Delhi. The auditorium was full, an indication said the minister, that there were islands of humanity in an arid desert of indifference.
Now in its 12th year, the annual awards, jointly organised by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and Shell India, recognised 10 individuals who had become role models for people with disability and companies which had provided equal rights and opportunities to the disabled.
“It's been heartening to see the awareness that has come to the disability sector thanks to efforts like this,” Chidambaram remarked. He said the upcoming census, scheduled to be conducted in February 2011, will play a big role for India's 70 million plus disabled.
“This time the sector has seen tremendous cooperation from the Census Commission. There is a serious and genuine attempt towards enumeration of people with disabilities,” said Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, NCPEDP. “Authentic numbers will mean significantly better resource allocation for disability issues.”
“Every year it humbles me to see the nominations that come in. They are increasing in number and quality,” said Vikram Singh Mehta, Chairman, Shell Group of Companies which has been involved with the awards for over a decade.
Disabled persons who are role models
These awards are given to disabled persons who have been actively promoting employment for disabled people and are a role model for others.
Dipti Bhatia: Visually impaired Dipti Bhatia is the Deputy Director of Vidya Sagar, Chennai. An M Phil in history, a teacher and a bilingual poet, Dipti joined Vidya Sagar as a volunteer in 1990 and became the coordinator of the institute's Inclusion Cell in 1998. She has helped nearly 100 students get admission into schools and colleges.
Mohammed Iqbal: Physically disabled, Mohammad set up People's Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR) in Leh in 2007. PAGIR is completely managed by disabled people and members of their families. The collective promotes two kinds of economic enterprise. One helps disabled artists turn waste to craft and employs about 200 people. The second enterprise, Himalaya on Wheels, makes Ladakh more accessible to disabled tourists.
Sai Prasad Vishwanathan: Despite being thrown out of various schools because of his physical disability, Sai went on to receive a research scholarship for an MS degree at the University of Wisconsin, US. He also became the first disabled Indian to skydive from 14,000 feet. He studied at the prestigious Indian School of Business. As an undergraduate, studying engineering at CBIT, Hyderabad, Sai was a topper. He was given the Best Trainee award at Infosys in 2007.
Non- disabled people who are role models
This category recognizes individuals who have substantially promoted employment opportunities for disabled people.
Anubhuti M. Bhattacharya: A human resources (HR) professional with extensive industry experience, Anubhuti set up an HR consultancy exclusively for disabled people in May 2005. In five years, Anubhuti has helped 500 disabled people find employment in companies such as Pepsico, IBM, ITC Hotels, Yum! and Genpact. She also specialises in conducting access audits and sensitisation training programmes.
Meera Chetan Bhatia: Daughter of hearing impaired parents, Meera began working as an interpreter for the deaf when she was 16. In 2000, she set up Sai Swayam, a coaching institute for the hearing impaired. Sai Swayam conducts vocational training programmes and Meera helps her students find jobs as well. Over 250 of her students now work with companies like IBM, HCL, Genpact and KFC.
Rama Chari: Rama has over 20 years experience working with disabled people. She has worked with AADI and NCPEDP in a range of roles. In 2007, she set up Diversity Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC) to provide policy and accessibility consultancy, training and research in the area of disability. In 2005, Rama wrote to Infosys and helped the company to become the first to recruit a large number of disabled people.
Companies for equal rights
These organizations through their policies and practices demonstrate their belief in equal rights and gainful employment for persons with disabilities.
Gitanjali Gems: Under its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative called Saksham, Gitanjali Gems, India's largest diamond and jewellery manufacturer and retailer, provides disabled people and rural youth a six-month training course in jewellery design and manufacturing at their factory in a Hyderabad SEZ. Gitanjali now employs nearly 250 disabled people, most of whom it has trained. In the next three years, the company wants to raise that figure four-fold. Gitanjali Gems plan to replicate their training model across India.
Lemon Tree Hotels: This chain of hotels currently employs 50 disabled people. That's a mere 3.3 per cent of its staff strength. But, Lemon Tree Hotels, one of India's first and largest chains of moderately priced, upscale business and leisure hotels, is determined to push that number to 300 or one in 10 of its staff strength. It focuses on those with speech and hearing impairments and trains them to perform at par with other colleagues. Some of these employees have been moved to front desk duties as well.
Sinar Jernih: An equal opportunity employer, Sinar Jernih, which has as its clients hospitality giants like the Taj, Oberoi and Hilton, has nine people with disabilities ranging from orthopaedic impairment to intellectual impairment at its Chennai head office. Since 2007, it has helped generate employment for over 370 people.
Yum! Restaurant: Owner of brands such as KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Yum! opened its first specially-abled outlet in 2008. More than 50 per cent of employees in these outlets are people with disabilities. Yum! hopes to open one specially-abled restaurant in every city it operates in. One of its core work principles is, “Believe in All People.”
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