The Stories Of Change

The Invisible Hurdles of India’s Disabled

Dhananjay was denied EMI services to buy a new phone, Anita was denied an ATM card and Aditya faced humiliation by the authorities many times while travelling. Why? Because they were disabled. Read these stories of India’s disabled and how there is more to notice than what we usually see.

Anita was denied an ATM card from a bank just because of her disability. She suffers from visual impairment and is not able to write her signature.  “The bank staff said they would not be able to provide me with an ATM card due to my inability to sign. I am currently pursuing MA in Hindi from Delhi University, which requires frequent travel. An ATM card becomes important,” said Anita.

Dhananjay Singh, a resident of Rohini, Delhi, suffers from motor impairment and even small movements are a big challenge for him. But his disability did not come in his way to success. He worked hard and is now currently working in the marketing department of a tech company. He was denied an EMI option to buy a phone of his choice, in spite of having a stale credit score.

“I went to a mobile shop to buy a new phone. I didn’t expect to face any problems in getting an EMI option after seeing my stable credit score. I was shocked when they denied me that facility. When I further inquired with the sales guy he told me that the finance company that their store is linked to does not give EMI options to the disabled easily,” said Dhananjay.


Life of constant challenge

Photo: Anandwan

Aditya Mehta, a renowned para-cyclist from Hyderabad, shared his bitter experiences. He was humiliated at the Bangalore airport as he was forced to remove his prosthetic leg during security checks. The process left him both emotionally and physically hurt. The process took 40 minutes- and he started bleeding from his leg. This was not the only time he faced such a challenge. There have been multiple occasions when this Asian Championship medal holder was given “the worst treatment for an amputee”. He started Aditya Mehta Foundation, an NGO that offers a bright sporting career to people with disabilities.

In a different part of the country, people with leprosy have been denied a passport multiple times. Getting a passport in India requires a person’s fingerprints. Since they do not have fingers, they are unable to fulfill the formalities.

“The passport formalities require either finger impressions or toe prints. If a person does not have any of those, then they can’t get a passport. We have many people in our organization who have been invited to foreign countries for shows and events. But they can’t go,” said Sheetal Amte, CEO of a non-profit called Maharogi Sewa Samiti in Warora, Maharshtra. The organization focuses on helping people disadvantaged with leprosy.

Banking for the disabled

Photo: Rahul Satija

According to The Rights Of Persons with Disability Act 2016, every bank and ATM should be accessible to the disabled. Also, denying any service on the basis of a disability is a criminal offence. But a large number of the banks in India lack even the basic facility of a ramp.

“Banking for the disabled can be a difficult task because of the lack of facilities in most of the banks. If the bank staff is supportive, then the problem could be solved. In one instance, we had a customer with motor impairment and he was not able to come inside as our branch does not have any ramp. We went outside to help him,” said Pratibha, an officer at Bank of Baroda, Delhi.

Pratibha believes things are gradually changing now.  Many banks are issuing guidelines regarding customers with disabilities. The guidelines also state a provision of doorstep banking for senior citizens and disabled. These services include picking up of cash and instruments against receipt, delivery of cash against withdrawal from the account, delivery of demand drafts, etc. Recently the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued an order stating that every ATM should become disabled-friendly and the process is picking up the pace,” added Pratibha.

Anita (right) with ABhishek | Photo: Rahul Satija

In the order, RBI has stated that all new ATMs should have a talking facility as well as a braille keypad, and has ordered banks to upgrade existing ATMs with the stated facilities. Action is speeding up to make ATMs and banks accessible to the disabled, but the gap in banking still persists as very few disabled people visit banks. Pratibha said that she rarely encounters disabled people in her branch, and that only 2 to 3 people with a disability come to their branch monthly.


Employment Woes

Research conducted by National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) showcases the lack of opportunities disabled people have in terms of employment. According to the research, not a single company from Business India’s Super 100 followed the law in appointing disabled people to 3 percent of its vacancies. In fact, none of them had even half that requirement of disabled people in their workforces.

“It’s very hard for disabled people to get employment in the private sector. In fact, most companies in India do not have offices accessible to the disabled population. The government is trying to improve the situation by providing three percent reservation in every government job. Providing incentives to private companies that have at least five percent of their workforce comprised of disabled persons is also done,” said Sneha, programme officer at NCPEDP.

Many times people with disability (PWD) are paid less than their counterparts. Viren, a call center employee, shared that while a regular employee would easily earn around Rs 15,000 a month, he was just paid Rs 6,000 for working eight hours every day.

Viren | Photo: Rahul Satija

He is visually impaired and is currently associated with the National Association For The Blind (Employment & Training) (NABET), an NGO helping PWD in getting employment.

“We have to pitch a low budget proposal to companies so as to make them employ people with disabilities. If we pitch a proposal which has starting salaries of Rs 15,000 then they would simply reject it,” said Abhishek Mishra, director of NABET.

Big companies outsource their tele-calling work to NABET. It currently has 28  employees with disabilities and all of them are working in a salary range of Rs 6,000 to 8,000. (We could not authenticate the claims made by Abhishek. When asked to give contact details of the companies that are outsourcing their work, he said he would call back but he didn’t.)

Saif, another person with a physical disability, used to earn just Rs 3,000 a month. He used to work eight hours with one of India’s leading spectacle dealers. His life  completely changed when he came to work at Echoes Cafe in Satya Niketan, Delhi. He started getting a better salary and was treated with more respect.

The hospitality sector has been employing a lot of people with disabilities. Lemon Tree, for example, has 22 percent of its workforce being comprised of disabled employees. In its survey, they found out that it was a decision many customers pointed out as a positive factor in building the hotel’s positive brand image.

Echoes Cafe only employs people with speech and hearing impairments. Saif is one of the employees working there. He is now earning Rs 15,000 a month. He is also provided with other facilities like food and accommodation.

“We have created a totally new dining experience. Customers order food by writing the code of the particular food item of their choice. Whenever they want to call an employee, they ring a bell, which lights up the bulb on their table,” explained Manish Verma, manager of the cafe.

Echoes Cafe Team | Photo: Rahul Satija

“This is a good way to do business by also helping society in the process. All our employees used to work at very low wages and were often mistreated. Here, they are happy and have made strong bonds with the customers, ” added Verma.

The cafe currently has three branches and 100 employees. It is going to open a new branch in Kolkata. Echoes Cafe is an example of what an inclusive environment looks like. If PWDs are isolated, then they will never be able to adjust in society. We don’t need special centers for the disabled. There is a need to create an inclusive environment where the disabled and their counterparts co-exist. We are still far away from becoming a disabled-friendly nation where everything from offices, school to transport vehicles are accessible to the disabled population, when they can finally enjoy freedom of movement.

Can there be a helpline where people facing such  challenges every day register a complaint and immediate action is taken? Can there be stricter guidelines by companies to make their work culture and environment disabled-friendly?

Featured Image: Will Jackson

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Rahul Satija

Journalist, Writer. Trying to bring a change in society through my storie's.

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