New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) Rekha Goyal, 23, lost her sight due to chickenpox when she was just three. But the fighter that she is, she educated herself at one of the best institutions and found employment in a bank.
With the help of her post-graduate education, and computer and English language skills learnt at the Venu Institute of Universal Education (VIUE), many visually impaired people like Goyal as well as those with other physical handicaps are successfully defying the stereotype that the physically challenged cannot be employed in regular jobs.
"I had decided that I would not be at the mercy of others and knew that the only way I could be self-sufficient was with education," Goyal, working as general assistant manager at the Corporation Bank, Bhikaji Cama Place in south Delhi, told IANS.
"I did my graduation (Bachelor of Arts) and post-graduation in Hindi from Miranda College, Delhi University," she added.
Hailing from Rajasthan, Goyal says the situation could improve further if more employment opportunities were there in both the public and private sectors.
Agreed 22-year-old visually-challenged Varun Mehto, who blamed the lack of will in both the sectors to recognise the inherent talent in many such people. According to the 2001 census, there are around 2.19 crore physically challenged people in the country.
"Reservation is not the answer to everything. The government cannot get away just by reserving seats for us. There has to be a healthy work environment too," Mehto, the son of a poor school worker in West Bengal who is a computer whiz and aspires to be a software designer, told IANS.
Employed at the National Association for the Blind Centre for Blind Women (NABCBW) as a computer teacher, Mehto said if the private and public sectors installed blind-friendly softwares, thousands like him would get jobs easily.
"Softwares like JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) and SuperNova, which basically help us in reading from a computer, cost around Rs.50,000 each for installing in five computers. So nobody is willing to spend the money," said Mehto.
However, there is another option.
Free softwares like 'Thunderbird' and 'Free Screen Reader' are also available but then the companies would have to train the visually-challenged for a couple of months to use them.
"But I guess no one wants to take so much of pain," lamented Mehto.
Debasis Das, store manager of the Costa Coffee outlet in south Delhi's Green Park started in 2006, begs to differ.
He points to Costa's policy to employ at least one differently-abled person in its outlets.
"Here everyone except the manager is either deaf or mute or both. However, their disability is never an obstruction in their excellent work," said Das.
The differently-abled staff, says Das, is trained for a month in collaboration with the Noida Deaf Society - a training school for hearing-impaired people.
"We take written orders and there is seldom any difficulty in communicating with our customers," said 23-year-old Shaan, a deaf employee at Costa.
However, Javed Abidi of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) suggests that the government should give tax incentives to all those private companies which provide services to handicapped people.
"Why can't the government give tax incentives for this cause? Encourage the private companies to offer disabled-friendly working environments and reward them. It's simple," Abidi told IANS.
"There is a marginal improvement in the situation, but I would say that the government has only given reservation without a conducive working environment and the private sector has failed overall," he added.
Taking the point further, Janta Adarsh Andh Vidyalaya (JAAV) principal Kalpana Sharma said the physically handicapped, particularly the blind, need to acquire special skills that would ensure a good job.
"I think computers can be the saviour for them as technology is vital in today's world. If they can work on computers, they can easily get jobs in call centres," Sharma told IANS.
"The employment opportunities have definitely expanded over the years and there is a positive change. But this should be a continuous process," she added.
However, George Abraham of SCORE Foundation, an NGO working for the blind, said though jobs have increased for the physically challenged, they are still 'menial' in nature.
"Most of the jobs given by the government consist of very little work. They are given as charity or donation," Abraham told IANS. "You will hardly see such people at the top level."
"It is good that people are talking about these issues more now. But the sad part is not many companies are taking initiatives. They are adopting a 'wait and watch' policy," he added.
(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)