Recently my mother sent me an article about Amazon building accessible experiences. On the occasion of Accessibility Awareness Day, a continuation of Global Accessibility Awareness Month, a few of the employees at Amazon came out and spoke about how they are dedicated to increasing digital access and inclusion for their customers and employees with disabilities. (Amazon building accessible experiences)
That’s when the thought occurred to me, we have always had conversations revolving around inclusivity in the corporate and political world. Many have made diversity and inclusivity a priority as they constantly try to mend the pay gap and job opportunities. But is it really working? Because at the end of the day, inclusivity is not about numbers, is it? An inclusive workplace provides opportunities to learn, explore, create and moreover teaches you how to empathise than just simply provide jobs to those with disabilities.
While on the topic of diversity and inclusivity, let’s talk a little about our own country. India has had a long history of positive initiatives when it comes to inclusion.
We definitely cannot ignore the fact that ancient Indian society was marked by social injustice. The lower order, particularly the “shudras” were coined untouchable and even women were discriminated against. But let’s go a little further behind, shall we?
Together Chandragupta and Chanakya built one of the largest empires on the Indian subcontinent (321 BC- 279 BC) and it was considered the golden era. Now, why exactly are we talking about them while on the topic of inclusivity? This is because many important figures such as Kautilya (also known as Chanakya, he was a mentor and political guru to Chandragupta) as well as the founder of the Mauryan empire, Chandragupta Maurya have brought in many statutes that ensured security of the downtrodden and poorest such as the aged, the ill and the infirm. They focused on self-reliance and even earmarked sustained livelihoods for the lower classes. Isn’t this how we envision inclusivity? Inclusion is defined as the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people such as those having physical or mental disabilities or even belonging to other minority groups. Additionally, Chandragupta also established workshops for the vocational rehabilitation of people with physical impairments and those who were considered socially disadvantaged members of the society.
Samudragupta too, a king who is shown with a very soft side to his personality followed a similar approach. We can see an example of this in the coins of his where a dwarf attendant is observed standing next to him indicating the special status given to dwarfs during his rule.
It is funny, how today even with the most progressive technologies, we still consider disability a negative and associate it with incompetency and inefficiency. Be it physical, mental or social, we treat disabilities with apathy and stereotype them.
Whereas, in the olden days, impairments were used as an opportunity to employ people for particular jobs. Spinning, weaving and even embroidery work was given to those who were considered highly skilled irrespective of their disability. People with hearing or speech impairment were considered a good match to copy confidential government documents. Surely seems like an interesting approach!
As per our census reports, even today about 2.2% of the Indian population lives with some kind of disability, be it physical or mental. They are often stereotyped as unconventional and out of the ordinary. We need to change this. Having worked as a volunteer at Advitya, a creative and vocational centre for those gifted with conditions like Down’s syndrome, Autism, Cerebral palsy, etc.; I have seen how everyone there feels normal and a sense of belonging prevails. The world is progressing but still there are very few organisational structures that truly and consciously make room for the differently abled. There are very few who take up genuine responsibility, not just for the sake of their CSR. It is important to shift the conversation from ‘disabled’ to the ‘differently or specially-abled’. These as well as those discriminated because of their social background should not just be a statistical data. They must not be forced into fitting into quotas. They need equal opportunities and upliftment. They must not be considered an outcast. They don’t deserve to live under the blame of occupying a position because of a quota and then condemned for lacking quality and qualification. They don’t deserve to have their opinions discarded, do they? They deserve representation but without repercussions.
The image in reference given above is a representation of how I view ‘inclusivity’ is in today’s society. The underrepresented (the smaller red cube) are given a space in the society (the larger black cube) but they both still don’t blend together. Inclusion is not simply about quotas or physical proximity. Instead, it is about belonging, participation and equal opportunities without stigmatisation of any sort. It is not a destination but a path. We can always do better!