Editorial Team

Indian Institute of Technology Madras Researchers conducted a study based on the differences in employment rates among persons with disabilities, arising from diverse nature of their disabilities.

While the disparity in employment rates between persons with disabilities and the rest of the workforce has been highlighted as a cause for concern in several studies, factors contributing to the differences in employment rates within the heterogenous group of people with disabilities has received lesser attention.

Uneven representation of persons with varied types of disabilities in the workforce underscores the need for organizations to seek talent beyond familiar types of disabilities. As employers play a critical role in promoting employment of persons with disabilities, this study explored leaders’ perspectives on key factors that direct their decisions regarding targeted recruitment of persons with various types of disabilities.

The research was undertaken by Dr. Lata Dyaram, Associate Professor, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras, and her Doctoral Student, Ms. Vasanthi Suresh. The findings of this Research were recently published in the reputed peer-reviewed journal emerald insight (https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-05-2020-0133).

Highlighting the key findings of this study, Dr. Lata Dyaram, Associate Professor, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras, said, “Based on interviews with leaders of 17 Public and Private Sector Organizations, the study reiterates the uneven representation of persons with various types of disabilities in organizations and identified some organization specific determinants (such as knowledge about type of disability, work characteristics, accommodations, accessibility and external pressures) that shape employer decisions.”

Elaborating on how such disparities in employment within the differently abled community can be addressed, Dr. Lata Dyaram said, “While most employers may believe in DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), many hold back when it comes to hiring people with disabilities as disability is often seen as potential cost/risk. Here is where we need a paradigm shift in talent strategies to be able to realise synergies and collaborate with diverse talent pool. Simple thing to start with is defy our own assumptions and seek to overcome real or perceived challenges we link with disabilities. Diversity, equity and inclusion is nothing new to India. Several positive initiatives, innovation hacks or “jugaad” often observed in small and medium-sized organizations providing suitable workarounds to foster inclusion teach us about strategic intent…”

Studies like this will trigger conversations around inclusion and more research on the roles of key stakeholders – such as, youth with disabilities, families, government, NGOs and companies. 80 per cent of persons with disabilities in the world are in developing countries such as India and most of them are less educated, under/unemployed and poor. Studies and work in disability inclusion in India is, therefore, important from a poverty alleviation perspective.

Speaking about the need for such research, Ms. Vasanthi Suresh, Doctoral Student, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras, said, “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities act mentions 21 types of disabilities whereas studies indicate that only persons with certain types of disabilities are represented in the employee base in organizations. Therefore, since employers are key stakeholders in generating employment opportunities and building inclusive workplaces, we focused on a less-explored area of how disability type influences leaders’ decision of recruiting from this untapped talent pool. ”

Through interviews, the study captures stereotype views or unconscious biases related to some types of disabilities, which act as a deterrent to hiring. Other leader perceptions are dictated by factors like cost of workplace adjustments, accessibility, and the value addition they see from inclusion based on past experience. The external pressures vary for public and private sector. For the former, legislation and mandates are the drivers. For the latter, it is customer- related or industry- related trends.

Based on contextual factors, each determinant that influences employer decisions is perceived as enabling (or can be addressed with ease) for persons with certain types of disabilities, and disabling for others, thereby encouraging the inclusion of persons with certain types of disabilities while leading to unintentional exclusion of others. The nature of barriers switches between subjective (familiarity, bias) and objective (architectural barriers) perspectives. External pressures unique to the organization context (industry trends, customer biases, quota system) play a key role.

The study notes that active facilitation through affirmative action coexists with passive discrimination that leads to unintended exclusion of persons with certain types of disabilities. When employers seek an individual/group, based on how easily they can be deployed, it can lead to unconscious bias that those excluded might not possess the required competencies. Therefore, organizations must resist being bounded by their real (and perceived) challenges but rather seek resources (and best practices) to guide them in overcoming some of these challenges.

This study will aid in in providing not only sustained livelihood but also in enhancing the standard of living for persons with disabilities toward a more equitable distribution of income/wealth in the society. Workplace disability inclusion requires moving beyond mere acknowledgment to more strategic intent and implementation of universal design principles, toward sustainable inclusion of persons with diverse disabilities into the mainstream.

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