Inspiring story of Delhi eateries
Mohammed Kashan is a master brewer at the Eatopia food court in India Habitat Centre. He greets you with a smile, and if you start a conversation, he points to the instructions on the counter that let you know he is hearing and speech impaired.
Then, he goes on to make a mean cup of coffee for you. The 30-year-old has worked in Cafe Coffee Day and Barista before his stint at Eatopia and supports his wife with his job.
Sandeep Kanotra, COO of Eatopia says, "Kashan now trains our regular brewers and he is exceptional." He said the process to employ people with disabilities began in 2012 in earnest. "There were a lot of things to think about. We associates with NGOs as we had to figure out which departments were best for persons with disabilities. We also sensitised our staff on how to make newcomers comfortable. The entire process took about 2 years and we started hiring in 2014," he says.
Many more restaurants, hotels and service platforms are now employing disabled people contrary to the perception that they would be uncomfortable in this line of business. Private hotels like Lemontree, with over 40 hotels in India came up with initiative of including differently-abled in their staff as early as 2007.
Seema, a speech and hearing disabled housekeeping staff, goes about her own business without a care in the world, at their hotel in Aerocity. She is 33, married and the mother of two children. Her husband, who is also speech impaired is a government employee.
She proudly enlists her responsibilities at the hotel. "I mop the floor, make the beds and if the guests have any request, I show them my ID card that says I am a disabled staff. So they write the request for me. It is great fun," she tells us in sign language. Seema wants to be a supervisor at Lemontree and she says the job has made her feel useful. "I am independent," says the bright eyed, bubbly employee. "I can support my husband financially and provide for my kids now."
Although hiring is increasing, the government still needs to do a lot more to absorb disabled into the workforce. According to data available with the Department of Public Enterprises, a total of only 1,181 visually impaired, 678 hearing impaired and 7008 employees with locomotor disability have been employed in central public sector enterprises till March 31, 2015.
A recent Supreme Court verdict also acknowledged the alarming reality of disabled persons being out of jobs despite India passing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now, a new law created by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on April 19, 2017, makes it mandatory to provide disabled persons with access to justice, free education, role of local authorities as providers of employment and opportunity, and National and State funds.
But while the government is now waking up on to the isuue, the private sector has taken a lead. Aradhana Lal, VP of Sustainability at Lemontree says employing the disabled is a part of their business model now.
"Initially, it was a trial and run programme. We started at a time when persons with disabilities were hardly absorbed into the work force. Now, there is a sign language class for employees every month. We recruit through job fairs held by Ministry of Social Justice and by word of mouth and NGOs. 15 per cent of our staff is disabled and we are very proud of it."
Twenty-year-old Aditya from Faridabad is autistic and works in the housekeeping department at Red Fox hotels. When he is not at work, he engages himself in sketching, playing Monopoly and candy crush. In the one year that he has worked at the Red Fox, he has grown to become a favourite among employees. "I love everyone here and know everyone's birthdays. I want to become an assistant manager here," says a very ambitious Aditya.
In Satyaniketan, the recently opened Echoes restaurant's entire serving staff is differently-abled. They greet you, seat you and take your order with the same precision- if not more-than a regular employee. Ajay Kumar, one of the waiters at Echoes, said, "We have placards to communicate and switches on each table connected to bulbs, to make serving easier."
Kshitij Behl, who opened the eatery along with friends Shivansh, Sahil, Sahib, Prateek and Gaurav, now wants to extend the employment of disabled to the chef department as well.