Atypical Advantage is India’s first hiring platform exclusively for people with disabilities
Mahalakshmi Mahadev is your average media-savvy millennial. The 29-year-old Bengaluru resident has a degree in engineering, her own Tik Tok channel, and has modelled at several fashion shows and even done a television commercial for a brand that creates clothes specially designed for people with disabilities. A polio survivor, Mahalakshmi, who made her debut three years ago, is the country’s first specially-abled television model. The fact that it took till 2017 for a person in a wheelchair to be in a television advertisement is what should get our attention.
It also points to a larger issue of how Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) have been excluded from the mainstream workforce. A recent report by recruitment platform Equiv.in shows that of the 1.34 crore PwDs who are employable in India, only 34 lakh have jobs, making the unemployment rate more than 70 percent. The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation as PwDs find themselves isolated at home with limited access and resources to reach out for employment.
Vineet Saraiwala has built India's first-ever hiring platform exculsively for Persons with Disabilities
Creating an advantage
It was to address this that Vineet Saraiwala, a business executive with The Future Group, built Atypical Advantage – India’s first-ever talent platform exclusively for PwDs. The IIM Bengaluru graduate discovered a gap when he was looking for a voice-over artist for a retail space designed for PwDs. “A lot of PwDs in India have never entered a retail space because they are inaccessible in terms of ramps, physical infrastructure, etc. So, we remodelled our stores across the country to make them accessible to everyone. It was when I was looking for models and voice-over artists with disabilities to feature in the campaign to promote the stores that I reached a dead-end.”
Vineet, who himself has a visual disability called retinitis pigmentosa, reached out to various groups and found that there was a wealth of talent available, but with no platform to showcase their talents where they could be reached. “The COVID-19 situation has created further divides. People with hearing disabilities and vision impairment are already at a disadvantage with more work going online. People with physical disabilities are finding it challenging to go outside and are isolated. Opportunities to earn a livelihood have reduced drastically. There was a need for an open platform where prospective employers could look at portfolios and contact the talent directly.”
The website already lists 16 categories of skills including photographers, physiotherapists, graphic designers, models, dancers, singers, painters and sign language interpreters. Each person has a profile page with a short bio, a list of their talents, contact details, and nature of disability. With over 200 people already listed on the platform, Atypical Advantage hopes to onboard 5,000 professionals within the first month of its launch.
Fulfilling a need
Vineet is optimistic about the platform creating significant opportunities. “When we started looking at the market, and the need for such a platform, our findings were staggering. Do you know that there are 1,500 professional masseurs and physiotherapists who are PwDs, across the country? They have all got certifications and qualifications from well-known institutes and find it difficult to get jobs. They were so happy when we told them about this platform.” He says that another positive impact the platform will have is it to inspire others to take up creative pursuits and follow their passion.
Case in point is Gayatri Gupta, a young Bengaluru-based photographer with Down’s Syndrome. Her online portfolio reflects her deep love of nature and people and capturing them with her lens. Her work has featured in cards and calendars and her work has been showcased at several events as well.
“It’s a simple fact but not many people realise that PwDs can be photographers, models, singers, or dancers and excel at it. Tomorrow, a child or young person with a disability and a passion for anything can be inspired to follow his or her heart.”
Atypical Advantage also goes beyond being just a platform. “We also focus on nurturing and promoting that talent. If an applicant falls short in some way, we put them in touch with one of our many volunteer mentors who give the necessary guidance to help them fine-tune their skills.”
Vineet says that the Mentor Circle already comprises leading talents in their respective fields, who are volunteering their time and prefer to stay anonymous so as not to shift the focus from the talent on the platform. Anyone seeking to volunteer their time can apply through the online form on the website.
Vineet says that the biggest message the platform hopes to share is that disability is not an excuse.“If you have the talent, here is the platform, ” he adds.
He also says it’s time for people to stop treating PwDs as ‘more human’ or ‘less human’.
“Judge based on merit. We always hear people remarking when PwDs do something phenomenal or spectacular about how God has compensated us with other gifts. Or there is extra sympathy and consideration. The time has come to treat PwDs as ‘humans’, like anyone else. And this platform is hopefully a step in the right direction in getting PwDs the opportunities they have earned and deserve.”