How this enterprise is helping the disabled community find employment

Bengaluru-based AssisTech Foundation works to improve the life of the disabled. The assistive technology-focused ecosystem supports and promotes disability-focused tech startups and innovations.
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According to the World Bank, India is home to around 80 million persons with disabilities (PWDs). Their inclusion in the mainstream, in terms of accessible infrastructure, education, financial inclusion, skill development, and employability, is critical — not only for their growth but also as a significant contributor to the nation's GDP.

However, the reality is quite the opposite.

Although the Indian government has made efforts in recent years to improve the lives and lifestyles of PWDs, there is still much work to be done.

Since 2019, AssisTech Foundation (ATF) has been working towards improving the situation of disabled people. The assistive technology-focused ecosystem supports and promotes disability-focused technology startups and innovations.

Prateek Madhav, Founder and CEO of ATF

Jawahar Bekay, Member - Board of Directors, ATF, tells SocialStory that jobs reserved for PWDs are as low as 3 percent in the public sector and even lower in the private sector.

The job situation

At over one billion people, PWDs form the single largest minority in the world (15 percent of the world’s population.) Yet, it remains one of the largest underserved groups, excluded from access to products, services, and participation in society at large — due to the lack of awareness and accessibility. 

To make matters worse, many PWDs tend to drop out of school.

According to Prateek Madhav, Founder of ATF, this problem is deeper than expected. “At present, nearly 90 percent of the people from the disabled community are employed in the informal sector, lacking major benefits, perks, etc.,” he says.

He adds most organisations do not recognise all kinds of disabilities during employment. While they cater to the people using wheelchairs, they often ignore those with invisible disabilities, such as mental disorders.

To counter this, ATF believes there needs to be a sharpness from the employers’ side.

Suryaprakash from ATF says, “There needs to be a job tinkering to make them [PWDs] productive. Organisations need to identify and create a map with potential roles for them.”

Excluding PWDs from participating in economic activities costs India a loss of 5-7 percent of GDP.

Through ATF, Prateek aims to bring at least one percent of PWDs back into the formal economy and curb unemployment and poverty, enabling them to live life with dignity.

The role of ATF

ATF started with the belief that technology doesn’t discriminate. In fact, assistive technology can bring a significant positive impact on the life of persons with disabilities.

As a part of the startup ecosystem for five years and associated with the disability sector for over 11 years, Prateek witnessed a major gap in India’s disability sector. . 

The non-profit organisation aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities by using assistive technology to their advantage. In doing so, it raises funds from CSRs, HNIs, governments, and foundations and looks after for-profit startups offering innovative solutions to people with disabilities.

Picture from a summer startup cohort organised by ATF

It supports 32 startups with 85 assistive technology products and 31 patents- including Eye-D, Innovision, Inclov, and BleeTv. 

Prateek says, “In a world where there are various disabilities, we are creating an enabling platform. There is often a misconception that it is more like a social obligation when one gives employment to disabled people. However, it is not just about the employment, but how will you integrate new thinking into the company by looking at the value they bring.”

Having started with a mission to create a platform that would support the assistive technology ecosystem, the organisation helps entrepreneurs steer in the right direction with support from 45+ mentors from the business, technology, and disability sectors.

The foundation claims to have positively impacted the lives of 4.6 lakh people with disabilities through its programmes and initiatives. 

ATF not just trains PWDs in communication and behavioural skills but also helps them in creating livelihoods.

Edited by Suman Singh

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