Technology is the Enabler of an Inclusive Workplace for PwDs

The Indian IT industry boasts of a total employee base of 3.9 million people. The industry has added 600,000 employees in last three years. However, the percentage of People with Disabilities (PwDs) in the industry is just below 1 per cent at present. Even though there is demand, there still lies a big question on their supply. This again arises another question, why are the deaf persons not getting their chance at such opportunities? When approached, the experts have one answer and two solutions to the question.

A video communication device in the form of an assistive technology. The video devices enable deaf and hard-of-hearing people to make calls via a monitor connected to a relay interpreter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jet Fabara)

According to industry experts, the answer to shortage of PwDs in the sector lies in the education system of India. Beginning from the initial education of deaf children, the teachers who are hired in deaf schools are hearing. This may sound like the ordinary scenario of a school without disabilities. But it is not ordinary when the students are deaf. This means that there remains a gap in the understanding between the teacher and students. Many times they are taught nothing but to only copy and write in their notebooks. Even the knowledge being provided to the deaf graduates is not at par with any other graduate without a disability. Their learning remains limited, their knowledge does not really grow and they struggle throughout their academic years.

Coming to the solutions, the correct answer to this situation is a change in the education system and better implementation of technology. Aarti Chandna, Head, Centum Foundation says, “The challenge is, instead of providing appropriate education, teachers tell them to lower their aspirations, give themselves some time to grow, and just give it a start as maybe in a year or so they will reach where they want to be right now.” Centum Foundation, the CSR arm of Centum Learning is a skilling and training company. Its initiative, Centum GRO provides advanced job training to deaf people.

Aarti believes that this gap in the education system can be filled with the help of technology. “When a graduate individual with disability expects a good job like any other graduate without a disability, he is not provided with such opportunity because of lack of knowledge which is otherwise expected. Herein, IT plays a very important role. Deaf persons rely very heavily on the IT stream to get accessibility to the outer world.” she added.

In other disabilities such as autism, it is something about technology which sort of hooks autistic kids and they work and play brilliantly with computers. As autism is a disability where the person is not very interactive but through the right technology at hand along with the internet, they learn much more; more than what they would have otherwise. It is very essential for kids in deaf schools to be engaged with technology from the beginning so that they are at par with other people without limiting their knowledge and skills due to lack of speech. This head start in the initial years can later on, when they get employed, can help them in using various technologies which prove to be very beneficial. Tech tools such as screen readers and screen magnification software, personal amplification devices, cueing/memory aids, alternative keyboards, videophones, pointing devices, literacy software and speech recognition software are a few examples which can do wonders if provided to employees with disabilities.

A Chicken and Egg Situation

When a person is deaf and is communicating to a hearing fellow, it becomes a task for him. Similarly, deaf persons cannot have a conventional instructor as it will not work for them. They depend a lot on what they see. So their eyes are very strong as a sensory organ and they accumulate a lot of information from what they see. Use of audio-visual content and making them understand through other such tech tools which are the ones which help the deaf immensely. Simultaneously, if we talk about people with visual challenges, it may be surprising for many to know that blind persons also use apps such as Whatsapp messenger and Facebook. In another example, The Blind Relief Association teaches blind people how to use computers with the help of certain tools like audio conversion of the content which they have to type. All this suggests that technology is the enabler and we only have to bring its inclusivity in the PwDs’ space.

Shrikant Sinha, CEO, NASSCOM Foundation says, “For visually impaired people, text to speech decoder technology serves as a necessity. Similarly many such technologies are available. At present, every other android smartphone comes with speech interfaces. So a lot of technology today is in use. What needs to be understood is that for PwDs, technology can really be leveraged. Through technology, content can be made available to them wherever and whenever. There are apps which help convert words into videos showing sign language. This is an example of completely technology driven solution to the problems faced by PwDs on a daily basis.”

Dr. Alim Chandani, VP at Centum GRO says being deaf is not a barrier. He is passionate about encouraging deaf persons to develop apps which are specific to their own needs. He believes in cutting across communication barriers with comprehensive skill development solutions designed by the Deaf, for the Deaf. “We are using multimedia and graphic designing which we call visual aids. Since text is very boring, it has to be turned into visuals for the deaf. Also, I want the deaf people to get into app development in the future as it is the future."

Moulding Technology According to the Need

However, the community has to figure itself about the issue of not being able to access the written text." There are companies which are making sign to text tools but that is not 100% same as what people speak. Since there are more than 300 sign languages at this point of time, we want some technology especially for the Indian sign language. So the deaf people in the country have to be skilled in 3D using an app with hand movements. Instead of having to hire and pay for interpreters by the hour, companies can have an app which is made by the deaf, for the deaf, so that they can better incorporate the kind of needs they require.” says Dr. Chandani.

It is evident that with technology comes disruption. Most of the video content on the web is not subtitled. Webinars have become a very beneficial tool now but for the deaf, there are hardly any interpreters arranged. So herein they face challenges related to technology. For deaf people, technology simplifies the content and makes it more visual only if implemented keeping in mind about the various disabilities. Dr. Alim wants to bring more and more technology experts and help Centum GRO to make different kind of apps and systems because a lot of apps are developed for the deaf but without the input of the deaf. Ideation has to be collaborative where they get the right tools to provide themselves what they are missing.

On the same hand, Shrikant Sinha adds, “Most of the technologies available today are brought in from abroad. Not much research is happening in India. Whereas bringing in technology from abroad has its cost attached to it. Developing low cost technology products in India is another important solution. As India is all about numbers, my estimate is that there may be around 7 crore PwDs in India. The only way to reach out to them and help them is through leveraging technology.” 

As there cannot be a single technology for everyone, it depends on the disability that one has. However, new technologies such as AI and machine learning can prove to be viable for many different disabilities. We just need to understand which tech can be suitable for a particular disability over unnecessary hearsplaining.


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