This article has been sponsored by Amazon.in
24-year-old Mantena Ravi Verma was born to a humble fruit-seller and an Aganwadi teacher in the city of Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. Born without the ability to hear or speak, the young Ravi was bullied and ridiculed through his formative years.
His only pillar of support was his mother. His father refused to believe in Ravi and his ability to make his life count. Ravi’s younger sister was born with a hearing disability too. A few years later, Ravi’s dad met with an accident and lost the only job he had.
His mother was the only glue holding his family together. She worked extra hours to run the household and ensure both Ravi and his sister were educated.
As a kid studying in a government school, Ravi was often shunned by his classmates and called names. “It did affect me. All my classmates would pair up with their friends to sit together, and I was always left to sit alone. But I wasn’t the one to sit back and let people treat me like a doormat. I stood up to my bullies and even complained to my teachers. But it hurt when the teacher wouldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I later shifted to a special school.”
Despite his youth, he knew that education was his only way to climb out of poverty. He joined a college with the intention of earning a bachelor’s degree in commerce but had to drop out because of a financial crisis at home.
He knew he had to find a job if he wanted to turn his family life around. So he connected with an NGO called Youth For Jobs (Y4J) in Vishakhapatnam. Little did he know, it would be a turning point in his life.
Fast forward to 2018. If you meet Ravi now and ask him what his dream job is, he proudly beams, “I want to become a manager at Amazon.”
Through Y4J, he earned the opportunity to work as a pack associate in an Amazon fulfilment centre. Today, he is the sole breadwinner of the family. Apart from working, he has also resumed his education and is pursuing his second year B. Com. (Computer Science) through distance education from the Andhra University.
“I struggled to find a decent job after my high school. But today, I am proudly shouldering my family responsibilities. A major credit of this goes to Amazon,” says Ravi.
In conversation with The Better India, Amazon reveals how it is using a disruptive and innovative way of building an inclusive and diverse team of associates, while also transforming the lives of people with hearing disability.
Amazon India partners with NGOs like Youth for Jobs and V-Shesh, to provide opportunities for associates with hearing disability at entry-level jobs. To ensure a comfortable work environment for these associates, the company’s Fulfilment Centres have gone the extra mile.
Associates with hearing disability wear a different coloured shirt to ensure they can be easily identified for their safety while at work. In addition, interpreters have been hired to ensure smooth day-to-day functioning and bridge communication gaps. The fulfilment centres run a ‘Buddy’ initiative to avoid any safety issues, where an individual or interpreter becomes a ‘buddy’ for the associates with hearing disability. When the special associates need to take a washroom break, they need to give their buddy a token. Before you mistake it for a replica of a school attendance system, here’s why the mechanism is important.
In case of an emergency situation, the buddy reaches out to the associate and is responsible to accompany him/ her to the safe assembly point.
Ravi speaks highly of his experience being a part of the team saying, “I am proud to work here. It has helped me build confidence and eased my family’s financial turmoil. What makes me happy is that my workplace doesn’t treat me any differently than the other associates. I think all other companies should also give people like us a platform to showcase our talent and an equal opportunity to grow and live our lives with dignity,” he says.
For individuals with hearing disabilities who are chasing their dreams, he says, “Our disabilities are the gifts that should be used in positive ways. If you know in your heart that you want to give it your 100 per cent, you will succeed. You just have to prove your mettle by making each opportunity count. The only way to do it is to work hard.”
And it turns out, Ravi isn’t the only one happy with the results.
The initiative to hire associates with hearing disability started in March 2017 and now Amazon in partnership with NGOs has been able to provide opportunities to more than 200 such associates across their fulfilment centres in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai.
With International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 2018, around the corner, Amazon and The Better India salute individuals like these whose determination, hard work, and courage have proven time and again that no disability can stop them from achieving their dreams and goals.