How Amazon India is promoting inclusivity by employing People with Disabilities at its silent stations

Online retailer Amazon India has provided opportunities to more than 650 individuals with speech and hearing impairments across its fulfillment network and provided a range of facilities for their safety and comfort.

We live in a world where a lot of people view physical and mental disabilities as a hindrance. They often fail to recognise the unique attributes and potential of the differently-abled community. This is one of the main reasons for the abysmally low representation of persons with disabilities (PwDs) across industries and organisations in India. 

According to Census 2011, of India’s 121-crore population, as many as 2.68 crore people have some form of disability. But, only one-third of them are employed. Not only are they deprived of livelihood opportunities, but their alienation from the industry also takes a toll on their social life as well as their caregivers. 

India has around 2.68 crore people who are differently abled.

In a mitigation measure, the country’s top online retailer Amazon India is now intensively pursuing its inclusive workplace policy. The ecommerce giant has been setting up ‘silent stations’ across Mumbai since 2017, where all the operations and package deliveries are handled by individuals with hearing and speech impairments. That is not all — Amazon India has also modified the infrastructure and other facilities in the stations to meet the needs of the differently-abled and ensure their safety and comfort. 

The company has extended its efforts to achieve inclusivity by recently partnering with Sol’s ARC, an NGO working towards building learning content for children with disabilities. The collaboration, finalised in 2019, is aimed at creating internship opportunities for individuals with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

Swati Rustagi, Director of Human Resources, Amazon India Operations

Speaking to SocialStory, Swati Rustagi, Director of Human Resources, Amazon India Operations, says,

“Many of the differently-abled in the nation are not provided with opportunities to showcase their skills and talent. They are not adequately represented in corporate setups and businesses. We, at Amazon India, wanted to change that by creating a culture that encourages them and brings out the best in them.”

An endeavour to drive inclusivity 

Any effort to bring about a change involves unfamiliarity and ignorance. This was the case when Amazon India kicked off its initiative of establishing silent stations. In order to resolve this challenge and identify PwDs to work at the stations, the company took the help of certain agencies including the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). 

While the first station was set up in 2017 near Victoria Terminus, the second one was established in Saki Naka. Initially, 30 differently-abled individuals came forward to work as associates in the operations and delivery divisions of Amazon’s silent stations. But the number grew rapidly within a span of two years. Today, more than 650 people with speech and hearing impairment work across Amazon's fulfillment network. 

Individuals with speech and hearing impairment loading a truck at Amazon's silent station.

Both the silent stations have been developed with an encompassing focus on the safety and convenience of the employees. The human resources team ensures the presence of an interpreter at the stations, both during the morning and evening shifts. Also, to enable the PwDs to interact with their higher-ups without any hassles, the company has trained the managers in sign language.

Swati explains, 

“The associates were also taken through certain learning modules related to handling customer complaints and deliveries, navigating maps, route optimisation, etc. The team also set up special protocols for the differently-abled in case of emergency evacuations.”

Beside these measures, every silent station has a white board on which the employees can write down their thoughts and suggestions with regard to any issue or trouble faced. The overarching goal is to constantly improvise and improve the work environment according to the PWDs’ needs. 

Employees communicating in sign language at the silent station.

The Amazon India team then conducted a study to assess the productivity of the employees of the silent stations and found them to be five percent more productive than those working at other stations. 

Speaking about the company’s recent partnership with NGO SoI’s ARC, Swati says,

“As part of this initiative, we are in the process of developing a model involving both training and employment of people with mental disabilities. We are planning to provide jobs for them in areas like data entry, stowing, loading and unloading, and staging, as these are some tasks which they will be able to do without a strain on their agility.” 

Turning around the lives of PwDs

Neelam Tanna was hard of hearing since she was very young. Since Neelam was the only person with an impairment in her previous workplace, she was subjected to substantial discrimination and ill-treatment from her colleagues. However, things took a positive turn for her when she bagged a job as an associate at Amazon’s silent station near Victoria Terminus.

An employee from the silent station delivering a package to the customer.

Says Neelam,

“I really enjoy working at the station. All my colleagues here put me at ease and I feel really safe and comfortable in the set-up. Amazon even provided me training in using a computer — a skill that I had wanted to pick up for a long time. Besides, my financial stability has improved and I have also received a steady increase in pay. What more could I ask for?” 

Amazon India is gearing up to enhance its efforts to make its workplaces more inclusive and amp up the sheer joy that comes from empowering PwDs and providing them with an avenue for progress in their lives.

A group of employees at the silent station in Mumbai.

“Inclusivity is the need of the hour today, and I hope Amazon will be able to set an example for other firms and organisations to follow,” signs off Swati.

(Edited by Athirupa Geetha Manichandar)


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