Byculla hosts India's first digi literacy center for disabled

Sep 06, 2015, 08:10 IST | Anju Maskeri

The course hopes to help integrate the disabled into the mainstream workforce

As far as we understand, there are people with disabilities who don’t even know that today’s mobiles and desktops come with accessibility features that make them comparatively easy to use and empowering,” says Shrikant Sinha, CEO of NASSCOM Foundation, adding that digital literacy among India's disabled is minimal.

Abbas Khairaz
Abbas Khairaz, a visual and hearing impaired staffer at the institute is receiving training from instructor Devyani Hadkar at the National Digital Literacy Mission Centre For The Disabled. He will be among those who later train other students at Helen Keller. PIC/PRADEEP DHIVAR

What’s significant is that according to the 2011 Census, there are 26,810,557 persons with disabilities in India. From these, those with hearing and visual impairment account for nearly 50 per cent. It’s surprising then that such a large number is not prepared to engage in the country’s economy, considering that most businesses need basic digital literacy.

It’s a gap that NASSCOM aims to bridge in association with Byculla-based Helen Keller Institute. The 36-year-old non-profit which was recently in the news when the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced that it would have to shift out of the Byculla BMC school from where it was operating, has received some reprieve. Although the school is now functional, the matter is pending in court.

On Saturday, the institute and NASSCOM Foundation launched a course to train people with various disabilities — speech, hearing, visual and orthopedic — in using digital devices ranging from the PC to tablets and mobile phones. Once trained, the students will be able to send emails, pay bills online, connect on social media, make purchases from ecommerce websites, along with being able to avail government services such as registering for Aadhar cards, ration cards and PAN cards.

The course kicks off with 10 students from within the institute who will receive training of about 50 hours.

“We hope to train 100 persons in the first three months,” says Sinha. The students will learn how to make use of screen-reading software, use speakers and mics and also operate computer hardware equipped with Braille.

“We have the infrastructure and a computer literacy course. What was lacking was a structured curriculum and support from the government,” said Yogesh Desai, CEO. For now, the course is free.

Neenu Kewlani, a member of Able Disabled All People Together (ADAPT), who has worked in the HR department of a top auditing firm for the last four years, feels the reason for the low penetration of the disabled in the corporate sector is a lack of trust in their capabilities.

“Companies believe they will compromise on productivity. In addition to this, certain liberties need to be accorded to them, in terms of flexible timings, proximity to location, which might lead to jealousy among peers,” adds Kewlani, who won the first Miss Wheelchair India contest in Mumbai two years ago.

“Many employ them to fill the three per cent reservation quota, but do not give them important work. That's why many don’t end up rising in the corporate ladder,” she explains.

This attitude, feels Desai, is slowly changing. “Although the penetration of the disabled in the corporate sector is a mere two per cent, there is now a growing demand for their services, mainly in the hospitality and BPO sector due to awareness,” he says, adding that he has already received requests from various firms for absorbing their students.

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