Jammu and Kashmir’s Aizzaz Ahmed’s lower limbs were damaged when he was two. Ramachandran Ashok Kumar of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and Priya Pundir of Dehradun were diagnosed with cerebral palsy in their childhood. Snehal Patel lives with a deformity of legs caused due to a locomotor disability at birth. These youth from humble backgrounds stand on their feet today pursuing careers like cashier, associate – professional marketing communications, a retail trainee and computer operator and are featured in the book —50 Stories - Jobs for the Disabled during COVID Times.
Launched recently by Hyderabad-based NGO Youth4Jobs, the book (in a soft copy format) depicts positive stories of disabled youth and how they grappled with challenges during the pandemic.
The pandemic and consequent lockdowns posed many challenges for job seekers; it was more so for differently-abled persons. The centre’s founder, Meera Shenoy, recollecting her experiences, says the differently-abled not just faced difficulties during the pandemic but also the stigma from family and society. “Many youngsters begged us not to stop offline classes as that would deprive them of getting a job. During any crisis, the vulnerable like the differently-abled , especially women, and the young widows get ignored though they need a job more ,” says Meera adding the book was conceptualised to celebrate their spirit and positive changes that come with determination. With only one smartphone at home, the women would finish housework in the morning and beg, borrow and steal to attend the afternoon classes. “I thought we should do this book to highlight their desire to get into training and get a job,” she says.
Written by Meera and Kaavya Mohan, the 156-page book took about four months with two teams at the helm. While one was encouraged to send inspirational alumni with real-life stories from across India, the other chose 50 employees with different disabilities.
Youth4Jobs training centres across India focuses on education and employment of youth with disabilities across the country. These centres had to be shut down after the first lockdown in 2020. The 100-member team includes 40+ trainers and 30+ volunteers on field (mobilise and placing youth) and a central support group adapted to Y4J Online, a grass-roots online training for jobs for less educated. The content — basic English and computer sessions, life skills and orientation in various sectors including e-commerce, manufacturing (that got expanded to other service industries as hiring opened up) — was almost similar to the offline curriculum. “We had to digitise it (content) and design a module to orient the youth to other online platforms like Zoom and Google Meet and run separate batches for the speech and hearing impaired,” she recollects.
The sign language instructors from across India created 102 sign language videos at an editing studio in Hyderabad. “So while most organisations had closed and couldn’t do placements, we as a team responded better,” she points out.
The one-month free training (three-hour session in the morning and evening) had 6,020 members out of which 28 % were females. Most of the service sector had stopped hiring in 2020 but e-commerce gave opportunities. While 23 % got linked to local employment/enterprise, 50 % were in Amazon, Flipkart, Reliance, Vishal Mega Mart, Dhoot Transmission, Valeo, Gabriel India, Cogent E Services, IBM and KFC.
The frequent lockdowns made travel plans go haywire. While some youth could not attend scheduled interviews, some had to take truck rides to fulfil their dreams. Applauding their spirit, Meera recollects, “Some of them used to turn up at unearthly hours at the trainer’s house and say ‘ I have come in time for the interview.’ They also had lurking fears of catching COVID-19 but the need to work motivated them to move ahead .”