Businesses open up to the disabled

Corporate January 12, 2014 00:00

By Achara Deboonme
The Nation

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New award scheme recognises firms for all inclusive operations in the Asia-Pacific region

Napur and Alok are two of the many people with disabilities that have been hired by the India-based IT consulting giant, Wipro.
The company, with operations across 57 countries, has to date hired more than 400 persons with disabilities, out of a total workforce of around 147,000. 
Wipro said it had employed all 400 of these employees based on merit, and not on a quota basis. 
By hiring Alok, who is deaf, Wipro has gained valuable insight into software development into hearing and non-hearing employees. 
In 2009, it started an initiative to accommodate workers with disabilities, so that they can develop their capabilities. 
“Our disability-inclusive business model was formalised in 2009,” said Isaac George, vice president, Human Resources. “It has proved to be very successful for our employees as well as for our customers.”
The company has been praised for the effort, thanks to its excellence in including employees with disabilities in its business operations, enabling mainstream careers for them and supporting them through accessible software applications.
Wipro was one of the three winners in the “ESCAP-Sasakawa Award for Disability-Inclusive Business in Asia and the Pacific”, an initiative inaugurated last year to encourage hiring among people with disabilities.
While Wipro won the award in the multinational enterprise category, Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre came out top in the national or subnational enterprise category, and India’s Trash to Cash in the entrepreneurial business category. 
They were all awarded for outstanding achievement in responding to the needs of persons with disabilities in their business operations.
Also mentioned for their inclusiveness policy were Capgemeni from India, Genashtim Innovative Learning from Singapore, ORBIT – another Indian company – Russia’s Systema 5 and Yum! Restaurants International from Thailand.
“Thirteen per cent of our current workforce are persons with disabilities, and we aim to increase this share to 20 per cent within the next three years,” said Jagdeep Thakral, general manager of the winning Singapore hotel, which was recognised for its productivity enhancing recruitment and training practices. 
“Providing long-term sustainable livelihoods has proven to be a mutually beneficial business model for the hotel,” he added. 
“Sixty five per cent of our workforce is comprised of persons with disabilities,” said Madhumita Puri, chief executive officer of Trash to Cash, which recycles waste material into marketable products. “In combination with our environmentally conscientious approach, this business model is not only profitable, it is sustainable.” 
As part of the award, Trash to Cash will receive a grant of between US$50,000 and $100,000 (Bt1.64 million-Bt3.28 million) to scale up its business model in 10 other cities in India. 
Pioneering concept
Disability-inclusive business is a pioneering concept that views persons with disabilities as an untapped workforce and a market with significant purchasing power. It also makes economic sense for businesses to adapt their products and services to cater to this underserved market.
The award initiative was launched to promote employment among the disabled in the Asia-Pacific, which is the home of 650 million people with disabilities, or about 15 per cent of the region’s population. 
According to Escap (the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), the number will increase even more as it is propelled by the ageing population, but these people are often unemployed despite their ability to work. 
Studies show that people with disabilities are often more productive, dependable and loyal, it added. 
“By addressing the needs of persons with disabilities, we can lift people out of poverty and provide them with a dignified life, while developing new – and expanding present – market shares,” said Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations under-secretary-general and executive secretary of Escap.
The ESCAP-Sasakawa Award for Disability-Inclusive Business in Asia and the Pacific was established by Escap, the Nippon Foundation and the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability.
It supports the “Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013–2022” by: 
_ Publicly recognising and rewarding businesses that demonstrate good practices in responding to the needs of persons with disabilities in their business operations;
_ Raising awareness regarding the opportunities available to the private sector for inclusion of persons with disabilities in businesses; and
_ Catalysing Asia-Pacific leadership in disability-inclusive business.
The contest is open only to profit-oriented enterprises and some social enterprises and non-profit organisations supported in full or in part by business or commercial activities. Wholly or partially state-owned enterprises are also eligible for nomination, as long as they are formally registered and seek to generate earnings.
Nominees in the first year were reviewed by a three-person jury led by Mechai Viravaidya, a leader in the development field and a social reformer in Thailand. 
He is the founder of the Population and Community Development Association, an organisation that helps address pressing health and population issues, using education and innovation.