This Unique Idea Shows Why Inclusivity at the Workplace Must Become a Norm

The Better India got in touch with Karuna Pande, who leads the fulfilment centre operations for Amazon India, to understand how an inclusive work culture is transforming the lives of hundreds of persons with hearing disabilities.

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Imagine persons with hearing disabilities, who have been discriminated against for the better part of their lives, not just in getting an education but also while finding employment. Not only do their skills go unnoticed, but many also have to cross major hurdles throughout their lives to be able to earn a livelihood and support their families.

Amazon India has embarked on a journey to provide opportunities to these individuals to help them earn a livelihood, with the belief that their abilities are ‘stronger than their disabilities’.

The Better India got in touch with Karuna Pande, who leads the fulfilment centre operations for Amazon India, to understand how an inclusive work culture is transforming the lives of hundreds of persons with hearing disabilities.

What is your idea of inclusion in the workplace?

We truly believe that an inclusive environment at work isn’t just a good or nice thing to do, but the right thing to do. And so, the idea was to really brainstorm and use innovative techniques to reach people across demographics. To not just empower them economically, but also help them build happy, successful and meaningful lives.

Take us down the memory lane of how a small idea turned into this initiative across five cities, helping persons with hearing disabilities.

It all began in April 2017, when we decided to work towards a more inclusive environment by providing opportunities to persons with hearing disabilities.

The first and foremost objective was to provide them with equal opportunities. Many of them come from difficult financial backgrounds, like farming and informal labour communities. And they have overcome each of those challenges to complete basic education and rightfully earn their jobs. Quick on their feet, and focused on the task at hand, they have proven their mettle over the last one and a half years across five cities Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Today, people with hearing disabilities are hired for two jobs — one as delivery associates at Silent delivery stations that are meant to provide last mile delivery services to customers; and secondly as associates at Amazon’s fulfilment centres.

What were the major challenges during the process of recruitment?

We ideally sought to recruit associates who have studied until Class 10, to ensure that they could read and write, and thus, be able to grasp the training. But it was only when we started interacting with them that we realised how difficult it was for them to access education.

Every case had to be looked at differently. So we decided to hire individuals who had basic knowledge of English, and were able to read. But the main criteria was that they should have the passion to work and the will to turn their lives around.

Any third-party organisations that helped you?

We work with several partners like Mirakle Couriers (delivery service providers who runs Silent delivery stations–solely operated by hearing-impaired individuals) and NGOs like Youth for Jobs, V-Sesh etc., who help us hire these associates with hearing disabilities.

While hiring is relatively easier, retaining these people and building the required infrastructure to accommodate them is the real test. How do you do that?

Yes, I agree. The first step after hiring is an orientation. For our associates with hearing disabilities, we hold a 40-hour orientation program, where they are trained about their jobs in sign language.

We have hired sign language experts to ensure everything is effectively communicated. We have taken special care to provide them with unique coloured t-shirts to ensure they can be easily identified for their safety while at work. This helps other co-workers distinguish them.

We also have a ‘buddy’ initiative, where another individual, a co-worker or their trainer (qualified in sign language), is their guide and mentor. From ensuring safety to addressing grievances, the buddy does it all!

How do you check the performance of the associates?

We do not discriminate or differentiate in the way we assess the performance of associates who can hear and who can’t. Their work is reviewed on monthly basis. We also hold periodic review meetings to give our feedback to the associates.

How do you think other organisations can benefit and learn from this model?

I think we need to look at inclusion as a much-needed step to improve work culture. Diversity, we have learned, doesn’t just stop at merely hiring diverse sets of people, but in the way we accommodate them. This could be applicable in all scenarios, whether it is hiring more women or persons with disabilities.

A final message would be not to restrict ourselves to diversity in mere demographics but also encourage diversity of thought.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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