Learnings and insights have a strange way of coming from the most random places and at the most random times. An insight came to me the last week from a sprained ankle. The last week I fell due to a general lack of eye-limb coordination and sprained my ankle rendering myself unable to walk. An X-ray followed to ensure that it is not a fracture-thankfully it wasn’t and I thought that my ordeal is nearly over. But as the next day dawned, I realised that the ordeal hasn’t even begun. Doing almost everything on my own became a challenge, but the biggest one was going to class.
Don’t get me wrong-going to class is ALWAYS a challenge and remaining awake is an even bigger challenge! But the situation was worse this time around due to the architecture of the Learning Center. The Learning Center is all high stairs and elaborate floor plan without any ramps or lifts to enable people like yours truly. While negotiating one of these godforsaken stairs, it stuck me that in my temporarily disabled state, I am finding it so difficult to go to class, what about (permanently) disabled people? And isn’t negotiating the corporate ladder just as difficult for disabled people as going about college or office buildings that haven’t been constructed keeping them in mind?
In more than one year of living on a B-school campus, I am yet to see a disabled student or faculty member around. Surely this is very odd. And then I ran a quick Google search- ‘number of disabled CEOs in the world’. The fact that there was no prompt for these keywords and that the entire first page comprised only of CEOs with learning disabilities indicated clearly that the physically disabled are not being accounted for. While people suffering from ADHD or Dyslexia may find jobs and/or college seats for themselves given that they generally possess exceptionally high IQs too, the physically disabled who may or may not be exceptionally intelligent find infrastructure as a major obstacle in doing the same.
Typical buildings in most B-schools and corporate offices (even those of international companies) are not constructed keeping in mind their special requirements- uneven patterned floor for the visually challenged, ramps for physically challenged, etc. Therefore it is no surprise that a mundane thing like going to class or office becomes such an insurmountable obstacle for most of the disabled people and leads to their apparent absence. As Stella Young points out in her popular TED talk, “…no amount of positive thinking turns a flight of stairs into a ramp…”
Thus, the absence of disabled people in my college or that in the corporate world is no surprise; it is no surprise that during my internship in an international banking giant, I did not see even one physically challenged employee- not to mention I could hardly see any ramps. Clearly, the need of the hour is to sensitize the corporate world about the sheer practical requirement of having disabled friendly infrastructure and that it makes business sense too-since this group of people is an untapped pool of talent. It is time that we enable this segment of our population. This will not only make our societies and workplaces more integrated but also more equitable.