PHEROZE L. VINCENT
Dr. M. N G. Mani tells Pheroze L. Vincent about his mission to win the battles disabled people fight everyday
"“Even if a tenth of all buses were disabled friendly, commuters would wait for those buses. Little things like audio signals at road crossings, for the blind, won't cost much.”"
“So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them,” says Dr. Mani quoting Swami Vivekananda. A former dean at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Periyanaickenpalayam, Dr. M. N. G. Mani is now in the human resources business. He helps disabled people find work, people like Surya.
Surya, an orthopaedically handicapped youth, used to run his firm called Caliber from a small rented accommodation in 2007. It was then when he met Mani who let him use his office space, rent free. In the last three years Caliber has trained 180 disabled youth in multimedia and data entry.
“All, but one, are now working,” says Surya. Mani's organisation UDIS (You and the disabled) Forum helps link firms like Caliber with employers and funding organisations.
I link therefore I am
UDIS' main goal is linking up advocacy groups like parents associations, people with disabilities, voluntary organisations and professionals. The forum spreads awareness, trains parents of the disabled to work with them and publicizes examples of successful disabled people.
“There can be a revolution in the disability sector if youth are involved,” explains Mani, who's also the secretary general of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment(ICEVI). To achieve this UDIS goes to colleges. Students of social work are trained for 10 days in working with the disabled. They are given manuals in Tamil and English which they take to schools to explain how blind and deaf people can learn too. “We now have children referring disabled people in their localities to rehabilitation centres,” he adds.
Targeting private companies
On the employment front, UDIS only focuses private companies. “Government employment takes time and they can't employ everyone,” Mani explains.
The private sector wants to help. Everyone has apprehensions about safety aspects and commuting to work, but once recruiters come to know that these people are capable of even changing two buses to come to work on their own, they become supportive, he adds.
“Companies have come back to us saying that disabled workers perform better than others,” he says proudly. What disabled people need are the skills and a positive working environment.
UDIS has a referral centre, in front of the district employment office, which maintains a database of disabled people looking for work. It has information on their qualifications and the kind of work they're looking for. They also talk to companies and keep a database of available jobs and the required skill sets. Applicants are then trained by professionals and voluntary organizations and placed in the job.
These people now work in sectors like food, engineering, health, education, textiles and information technology and enabled services. In the last three years, 427 disabled youth have found work through UDIS.
Keeping the faith
Mani admits that building the confidence of disabled people and their families is difficult. “But when people see disabled people becoming breadwinners there is a social impact,” he explains. They become examples for their communities, even inspiring non- disabled unemployed youth.
“Less than a tenth of those placed aren't able to cope at work due to health problems or lack of skills. They are re-trained and helped with finding suitable employment,” he adds.
A little help from Big Brother
A little support from the State can go a long way. If buses had lower footboards and made unscheduled stops on the request of a disabled passenger, it would make their lives much easier. “Even if a tenth of all buses were disabled friendly, commuters would wait for those buses. Little things like audio signals at road crossings, for the blind, won't cost much,” he says.
Legal provisions like the People with disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) shouldn't merely remain on paper, says Mani. “Though policies and funding are there, execution is slow.” There must be three per cent reservation for the disabled in education and employment, only then can there be holistic national development, he adds. There also needs to be a separate cadre of teachers specially trained to teach the disabled, explains Mani. Special teachers today are rarely absorbed into the education system. Most disabled children don't even have access to them.
“I appeal to all engineering students to come out with new research to improve accessibility of the disabled.” The deaf use phones now because of text messaging. The blind use computers with the help of JAWS screen reader. We need to mass produce devices, like wheelchairs and foldable ramps, to make them available to the disabled, he appeals.
The walls at UDIS have pictures of his mentors Gandhiji, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Teresa, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, B. R. Ambedkar, Helen Keller, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Stephen Hawking and Ernst Christoffel. “I revere Ambedkar for his work for the downtrodden, Helen Keller for her determination and Hawking, because he overcame his disabilities to be one of the brightest scientists, says Mani. “We aren't doing any miracles here; we're just doing work which others have neglected.” If you too want to fight the good fight, contact UDIS at 0422 240 2723/2327 or visit www.davo.in/