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Nilofar Ansher


Enabling Access for Persons with Disabilities to Higher Education and Workplace: Role of ICT and Assistive Technologies

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The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, India and Fourth Wave Foundation held a conference on “Access for Persons with Disabilities to Higher Education and Workplace: Role of ICT and Assistive Technologies” on 20 and 21 January 2012. This was part of the Foundation’s ‘never-the-less’ initiative to share best practices on enabling access for persons with disabilities.


Never the less initiativeIndia, among other emerging countries, has one of the highest proportions of disabled people in the world. A study by World Health Organization estimates that nearly 70% of disabled people reside in emerging economies, including India. As per the National Census (2011), 6-7% of India's population is disabled, which includes both physical and learning disabilities. With such a large population of persons with disability in India, there's an urgent need of both awareness creation and action towards providing a dignified life to our co-citizens. The current plight of Persons with Disabilities is far from justified, both in our society and workplace. In our country, Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, promotes employment of persons with disabilities through a scheme of quota to the extent of 3% in all government departments (Central and State government), public sector undertakings and local authorities.

Ground Realities

The Indian Higher Education system is said to be the world’s third largest, preceded by the ones in China and United States. However higher education in India, in itself stands for a great contradiction. On one side, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) ranks among the best universities of the world, and on the other there are numerous schools which lack proper infrastructure for basic student needs. In the midst of all these problems is a nation that is working towards ensuring equal access and education for all.

Over the last few years, educational institutes, especially those involved in higher education, have been taking steps to give equal access to people from diverse economic and social backgrounds. To promote higher education for persons with disabilities, government-funded institutions (including IITs and the Indian Institute of Management) have been reserving 3% of its seats for persons with visual, hearing and locomotor disabilities. As a result we can see our campuses being more vibrant. But this equity has not yet reached persons with disability, partly because of lack of awareness and sensitivity, and also because of limited infrastructural support.

If we were to look at efforts across the nation, we see struggles at various quarters to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWDs), as they lack many opportunities available to the mainstream populace. The rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would be enough to protect everyone, ideally. However in practice, certain groups such as PWDs, specifically women and children with disabilities, fare far worse than others.

International conventions are in place to protect and promote the human rights of these groups, with access to education being one of the basic rights. Working on the theme of the conference “Access for Persons with Disabilities to Higher Education and Workplaces” we looked at various efforts made by individuals, institutions, companies and public /civic organisations in trying to address these issues.

With the intent of generating such awareness and creating an atmosphere of equal opportunity towards inclusivity at academic institutions and workplaces, this conference is an initiative in bringing the key stakeholders together. These stakeholders come from NGOs, corporate and educational institutes and activists from across India.

The aim of the conference was to draw attention to three broad areas of intervention that needs to be dealt with from the government, educational and industrial forces:

  • Crucial difference between existing educational environment and inclusive/enabling ones
  • Understanding what it means to ensure equal access; be sensitive to student needs; redefine how we build educational environments
  • How can Indian campuses become inclusive to be globally competent and competitive

Some of the key questions addressed to HR managers present at the conference were:

1. What are the sources of recruitment most easily accessible to PWD? Are these the same that managers utilize?

2. Can an organization tap vocational schools where PWD learn skills in order to fill niche jobs?

3. What training (if any) is provided to those who recruit PWD? Are organizations ensuring that biases do not creep in
inadvertently when recruiting and selecting PWD?

4. Can HR managers design feedback mechanisms that ensure managers provide realistic and supportive feedback to PWD?

5. Does the organization offer disability specific socialization programs that help PWD integrate fully in organizations with their
counterparts without any disability?

Panel discussion: How institutes of learning can work with corporates











Panel discussion: "How institutes of learning can work with corporates" chaired by
V Isaac George, HR Head for Wipro Infotech and for the Global Infrastructure Services Business

Panel on inclusion and barriers with a focus on UNCRPD

Panel on inclusion and barriers with a focus on UNCRPD and the legal framework:

(Left to right) Mohammed Asif Iqbal (Price Water Coopers), Ankit Jindal (Wipro),
Rama Chari (DEOC), Vaidyanathan (IIM-B) and Zamir Dhale (Sense International India)

C.C.Joseph (FourthWave Foundation) on the vision and plan of nevertheless) with other dignitaries on stage

Inaugural session: Mr C.C.Joseph (Fourth Wave Foundation) on the vision and plan of never-the-less)
with other dignitaries on stage from left to right:

1) Mr Sridhar, Knowledge Commissioner, Karnataka Jnana Aayoga
2) Mr Ganesh Ayyar, CEO MphasiS
3) Mr Devanth Tirupathi, Dean Academic IIMB
4) Mr Rishikesha T. Krishnan, IIMB, Chairperson ODS

Find out more about Never the Less on their website: