[AI] ABILITY is the only true qualification

vishnu ramchandani vishnuhappy at yahoo.com
Sun Sep 30 23:47:20 EDT 2007


What counts is the ability to do a job well, say
disabled people.

Heeru Chandnani and Nevy George

ABILITY is the only true qualification.

Wishful thinking, this, you might say, but it's
happening.

eWorld chatted up people employed with IBM whose
talents are more evident than physical disabilities.
Here's what they say about coping with workplace
challenges.

But first, Martin Appel, Vice-President, Human
Resources, IBM India, puts his company's policy in
perspective. He says, "The IBM leadership understands
that winning in the global marketplace requires us to
advance talented people with disabilities throughout
our company. Being a leader in diversity underscores
our commitment to an inclusive work environment where
ideas and contributions are welcome, regardless of
where you're from, how you look, limitations in your
physical capabilities or what personal beliefs you
hold."

`No curse but challenge'

Jyotindra Mehta

Congenital blindness due to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)
took away Jyotindra Mehta's power of sight at a very
young age. Emigration to the US on scholarship,
coupled with a readiness to take up any challenge,
resulted in Jyotindra's quick success there.

Today he is India's only visually-disabled software
programmer. Far from feeling disabled, Joe, as he is
better known, prefers to say, `enabled', to use the IT
terminology to advantage. He believes, "Disability is
not a curse, but a challenge and no challenge is
insurmountable."

Contrary to accepted beliefs, he says, "Even though
the West is technologically advanced, the attitude of
the people towards the disabled is not any better than
in India."

He has conducted training classes on mainframes,
participated in engagements and has managed the S/390
mainframe ever since it was received in Bangalore.

"I find the S/390 Systems Administrator role to be
very interesting and challenging," says Joe. "It was
my career goal when I was based in the US. I also
enjoy my role as senior IT specialist and teaching
S/390 training courses, such as DB2 Database
Administration, and participation in customer
engagements."

He worked as a technical advisor for India's National
Association for the Blind, Karnataka Branch (NAB KB)
and with the National Institute of Information
Technology (NIIT) where he helped to launch one of
India's first computer training programmes for the
visually-impaired.

Joe uses a voice synthesiser adaptive aid, which is
designed to work on a Win95/98 workstation. It takes a
normal keyboard input and produces speech output
through a combination of voice synthesiser. It enables
him to hear the text displayed on the computer screen.
He was awarded the Helen Keller Award in 2004.

Joe says, "I refer to online documentation using the
screen reader as needed to research the problem and
its resolution. All of the IBM product documentation
is now available online which is immensely helpful to
me. I also have developed my memory to an extent that
I do know a good bit of stuff on commonly occurring
problems by heart."

Facing workplace challenges

Heeru Chandnani, born visually-disabled, grew up
hearing her parents both of whom sing beautifully.
Today, at 25, Heeru works with the BTO (Business
Technology Optimisation) HR, which handles
employee-related queries within the organisation.

Nevy George was born with cerebral paralysis, which
affected his leg. Armed with an MBA from the School of
Communication & Management Studies, Kochi, he has been
with IBM since April 2004.

Both have tips for the disabled facing their first
interview and dealing with different organisational
issues. Heeru says, "People with a disability about to
face their first interview should ensure that they are
prepared for it, have their knowledge and facts
straight. They must not go in with the attitude that
since they are specially challenged they will, or
should be, treated differently. Also, it is up to them
to convince interviewers that they have the
capabilities and can do the job that they have come
for. People are still ignorant about the capabilities
of the disabled and it is up to us to convince them."

Nevy says, "I work as an HR co-ordinator. Most work
today is intellect-driven, so physical challenges
should not stop any person from achieving personal and
institutional goals. I face various challenges in
reaching office but once I am in office I am no
different than any other. Positions in Finance, HR,
and Software development are ideal for PwD (people
with disabilities). The reason you are called for
interview is because your skill sets and experience
match at least 60 per cent of the job requirement.
Candidates may be asked about the disability and the
willingness to travel or relocate. Focus on your
abilities and don't let any disability hamper
confidence."

The pay is the same as for any other employee in the
same position. If PwD are on a lower salary bracket,
then it won't be a bad idea for corporates to pay a
little extra for conveyance as most face problems
using the public transport, he says. Chances for bias
are nil or minimal if the company is an equal
opportunity one. IBM follows an open system so
concerns can be raised with your manager or someone
above him. Ask people within the company regarding
disability policies followed."

Colleagues can be helpful or a hindrance and Heeru
believes that "Most people have not actively dealt
with a PwD person before. They often act like you do
not exist and assume certain things. You have to tell
them how you work, what you can and cannot do, how
they should and could help you. Once you tell them,
there shouldn't be any problem. I think one just has
to be vocal and explain things. It is not their fault
that they treat you how they might be wont to do. The
first few days can be the most trying, so be normal,
confident, expect some unexpected behaviour and be
willing to help others by not taking everything
personally. Come across as a normal human being and
not like someone different in a shell. Do not expect
any pity."

Nevy believes, "Everybody comes with their own share
of ability and disability. The only problem PwD face
is that their disability is visible. Over time, the
abilities will also become evident. So just set
targets towards what you want to achieve and go after
them. Over time, when you are successful, negative
reactions will stop. Based on your first day's
experience, specially if it is negative, do not come
to conclusions about the organisation."

Appel says "Today, worldwide, more than one billion
people have a disability. That number is expected to
significantly grow in the coming years as the world's
population ages. For IBM, people with disabilities
present a tremendous market opportunity as the need
for best-in-class assistive technology continues to
increase."

The future presents a more open picture to disabled
people. And technology is giving a whole new, and
welcome meaning, to the term IT-enabled.

Picture by K. Gopinathan

paromita at thehindu.co.in


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