In July 2016, American fast-food chain, KFC India launched an advertisement featuring two friends bonding over some fried chicken. A great script, awesome acting, and a good measure of feel-good factor ensured that the ad got an overwhelming response. What made the advertisement stand apart, however, was that one of the friends could not speak and the other friend was using gestures to communicate.
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For an advertising industry that considers beauty and perfectionism sacrosanct, the advertisement indicated a paradigm shift in the Indian industry’s mindset. As per the Census 2011, disabled persons comprise 2.21 percent of the country’s population, which experts feel is an under-reported figure. There is a dearth of companies catering specifically to the demands of physically and mentally challenged people.
Sadly, in the quintessential profile of an average Indian consumer, disability rarely finds a mention. However, the dynamic has changed a bit in the few past years. Albeit on a small scale, Indian brands are now finding are now tapping the market for disabled-friendly products. Here are a few brands which have woken up to the needs of this new clientele:
The idea for a matrimonial agency for disabled people struck Kalyani Khona while she was looking for office spaces for her matchmaking website in Mumbai. Surprised at how inaccessible most locations were for people with disabilities, she decided to explore the idea and launched Wanted Umbrella. In 2016, she later joined hands with Shankar Shrinivasan to launch Inclov, India’s first matchmaking app for people with disabilities.
Seeing his daughter with special needs struggling with her clothes, designer Joe Ikareth decided to launch a clothing line for people with disabilities along with Murielle Ikareth. Called Move Ability Clothing (MAC), the clothes are based on traditional fabrics from Kerala, which is also Joe’s hometown.
Currently operational in Bengaluru, KickStart Cabs has made cabs just a call away for disabled people. Run by entrepreneur Vidhya Ramasubban, the cab service ferries over 15-20 physically challenged people every day. The cabs are modified with wheelchairs to enable the disabled and senior citizens to commute safely. There are on-board assistants to help people.
Companies are now readily accepting physically-challenged candidates for jobs. It took a court petition for 30-year-old Ira Singhal, who has 62 percent locomotive disability, to fulfil her dream of becoming an Indian Administrative Services officer after she topped the exam in 2016. Global consultancy agency Ernst & Young (E&Y) was ranked third in DiversityInc’s survey for top companies for people with disabilities. The company welcomes people with disabilities as part of its team and upgrades its policies regularly to make itself more abilities inclusive.
Though the industry for disabled persons in India is still in its nascent stages, there is always the early-bird advantage available for companies looking to explore the sector. Angle investors and organisations like Nasscom Foundation are readily funding startups and brands looking to tap into sector. For most brands, the emphasis on empathy towards the needs of the disabled has gone well for their business prospects.