For the last three years, Jayashree Raveendran, a hearing-impaired woman who had a hugely successful career, has been helping qualified disabled people find suitable jobs.
According to her, on the one hand, there are companies ready to give equal opportunities to the disabled but unable to find the right candidates. And on the other, there are qualified disabled persons hamstrung by lack of awareness, over-protective families and fear of rejection.
So, she bridges the gap by hosting 'Employability' — a job fair that brings together companies and employable disabled candidates.
Raveendran, founder of Ability Foundation, an NGO that facilitates a level-playing field for the disabled, says Employability is about more than just finding jobs.
"It is aimed at finding the right job for the right candidate and sensitising companies about recruiting qualified disabled, instead of just quizzing a blind person on whether he could find his way to the toilet. It's the qualification and candidate's strength that matters, not if he or she has a crutch or a cane," she explains.
The first job fair in 2004 was a success, attracting 32 companies and 600 candidates. The third edition in 2006 saw 74 firms choose from among 11,000 candidates.
"In the first two years, mostly IT and ITES companies participated but in the last edition, we had representation from the manufacturing, logistics and hospitality sectors," Raveendran adds.
The next fair is scheduled on February 24, 2008 in New Delhi due to a flood of enquiries from candidates in north India. Candidates need to register before December 24 and companies by January 15 by visiting the foundation's website, abilityfoundation.org.
Raveendran gave up her career spanning teaching, advertising and corporate communication to start Ability Foundation in 1995.
She is an articulate speaker and is always on the lookout for out-of-the-box ideas to sensitise society towards the disabled.
Apart from the job fair, she also organises talent shows like dance and beauty contests where the differently-abled can rub shoulders with thorough professionals. She says that though things appear to have changed for the better, many still nurse a narrow, stereotyped vision of the disabled.
"One cosmetic company refused to sponsor our fashion show saying disabled people never use cosmetics," Raveendran adds.