Many of them offer servicing and repair at the customers' doorstep

The ceaseless ringing of his mobile phone at 7 a.m. indicates the beginning of yet another hectic day of work for R. Gajendran (30). Three years ago, life was different for this diploma graduate in computers, as he kept searching for a firm that would employ a person with physical disability. “'We will get back to you later' — That was the only answer I got everywhere,” he says.

He then decided to not wait any longer and took a path which is increasingly popular these days — undertake a range of services from mobile servicing and repairing of electronic goods. To top it all, such persons, mostly victims of polio, provide the facility at the customers' doorstep in many areas of the city.

People would expect persons with disability to take up jobs that do not involve a lot of movement. But we cannot keep waiting for such work, says R. Gopalakrishnan, who also deals with mobile servicing at homes. “Simple problems of display, audio and keypad is dealt with there itself, but for serious damage involving software and circuits, the devices are often brought home, where I have set up a small servicing unit,” he says.

“The traffic is a concern, but I realised I had to offer people what others did not, even if it meant a little discomfort for me,” says K. Kesavan, who travels from one house to another undertaking repair orders for mixers and grinders in households in Perambur.

These technicians have a vehicle each, fitted with extra wheels for support. Obtaining a licence is difficult and parking is a daily hassle. “I cannot get into buses or auto rickshaws myself, so when I run out of petrol, I have to call a friend to come and pick me up. It is difficult when it rains,” says Mr. Gajendran, recalling times when he was stranded. “The most difficult part is explaining to people that the delay in procuring specific spare parts of mobile phone has nothing to do with my disability. Anything less than 15 kms, I set out immediately, else try to combine orders to save on petrol,” he adds.

“The market is opening up to disability, but the biggest problem is the lack of choice for the job seekers,” says Janaki Pillai, director (operations), Ability Foundation. “The quality of training imparted by different organisations has also improved and is not as archaic as it once was. Most institutes now train these people in skills that make them immediately employable and able to earn, and they can go on looking for other jobs too,” she adds.

But it is equally important to keep conducting refresher courses for them in modern electronics, smart phones and tablets. “That is not being done, hence most of them keep switching between grinders, mobile phones and laptops, and there is little increase in their remuneration,” says D. Annamalai, professor, University of Madras, who is involved in disability studies.

However, doing this, say these technicians, is better than working in companies that manufacture electronics and clocks that normally employ people with disability. “The salaries come on time there, but there is nothing that you learn. The shifts are annoying too, and who says we cannot harbour a vision of working at our own will, like others do?” asks Mr. Sivakumar.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012