Sunday, 4 January 2015

My date with disability

In all my life, I have spoken to him about this for not more than 60 seconds. He was affected by polio as a child and had to be carried from room to room. This man, who studied in a Malayalam medium school till class V, went on to become the Chief Executive of a “mainstream” conglomerate in India and the CEO of an American firm. At an age where people would choose to hang their boots up, he established his entrepreneurial venture. He leads a normal life – he goes on long walks, he drives, he swims, I’ve even seen him dance. This self-made man is my father.

I came to learn about the International Day for People with Disabilities a few months back. Close on the heels of this, I had the opportunity to participate in a recruitment drive for persons with disabilities. Most applicants to my company were polio affected. I was a little crestfallen, since I have never viewed polio as a disability! My father NEVER played the “disability” card either personally or professionally, consequently, my mind refuses to equate my dad’s condition with disability.   

This brought back an unpleasant experience that I had as a recruiter. I was with the hiring manager at an interview for a sales position, and a candidate walked in with a noticeable limp. After a short interview, the hiring manager seemed very dismissive of his candidature. He expressed considerable doubt regarding his ability to sell and blurted out an appalling statement – “What would a client think if we sent a person like him to represent out brand?” I was infuriated; he had touched a raw nerve. What was “person like him” even supposed to mean? I reported this incident, he was issued a verbal warning and I was asked to “orient” him towards dealing with “such” situations.

In my limited experience, I have found that people with disabilities do not want sympathy, they would be happy with some empathy. They do not want special privileges or leeway with rules. They would appreciate not being stared at. All they want is a fair chance to compete. And for heaven’s sake, they are “normal” people.

It is amazing how the corporate world does its bit – Diversity & Inclusion and the likes, but I think we must first address the biggest disability that the human race has to deal with – that of the mind.