Meet Vedika Phadke, a sprightly young addition to the Bombay Ballet Company (BBC) team who is visually impaired and lives in Kolhapur. She works in the accounts team and goes about her daily tasks from home where she uses her personal computer, one equipped with a screen-reader and a Braille Electronic Display. Her passion for calculations and numbers doesn’t go unnoticed and she soon hopes to pass the Chartered Accountants final exam which she recently appeared for. Her work is a reflection of her dedication and the team at BBC loves her.
“When I first received Vedika’s CV, I was instantly impressed.” says Deepika, founder of the BBC, “Not only was she qualified for the role but it also spoke of her ever-willing drive to hone new skills. However, since it was our first time hiring a differently abled candidate, we decided to give it a month’s trial to see how comfortable she is working in the team. Vedika proved to be quite meticulous, regular and responsible.”
Vedika Phadke wasn’t born blind. At the age of five her vision began to falter and the doctors tried to correct it with medication and other treatments but when her parents realized that there was nothing more that could be done, they galvanized their efforts towards finding the most appropriate method of education. A blind school in Kolhapur seemed like their only option. Vedika’s mother, who was also a working mom, studied Braille science before she could teach it to her daughter. Once Vedika reached the 5th standard she was admitted to a normal school and she went on to complete her 10th standard using government-authorized text books in braille. Highlighting an interesting fact here Vedika says, “Printing in braille in not easy and neither is lugging around books in braille convenient. A single page in a book is equal to at least five pages reproduced in braille.” Even the search for good writers or scribes to assist in the examinations was tedious, but mastering the use of the computer with a screen-reader boosted her confidence and speed tremendously.
However, despite the many challenges, completing her education was paramount and she successfully graduated with a Masters in Commerce and now she is only one step away from adding yet another feather in her cap with her recent attempt at the Chartered Accountants final exam. “Studying for this exam was time-consuming and very difficult as the coaching classes had to close down when the pandemic hit and I had to manage alone” says Vedika, “My parents explained to me that I would have to put in much more effort if I wanted to succeed. Fortunately for me, working at BBC gave me a lot of flexibility as I wasn’t bound by timings. I was only expected to complete the tasks for the day and I could then shift focus to my studies. They have been very supportive and approachable which makes working here a great experience for me.”
Finding good employment opportunities has never been easy and one can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for the differently abled. Inclusivity at the workplace, irrespective of one’s gender, race or physical or mental disability, should be listed amongst the main goals every organization should set for themselves to help improve the social fabric of a developing country like India. Luckily for Vedika, help wasn’t far and she was immediately informed about the opening in BBC from a friend, Vedika Ghotane, the founder of Empathize, a Facebook page that helps connect writers and visually challenged students. “I was thrilled when Deepika decided to give Vedika a chance because a chance is all they need to prove themselves” says Vedika Ghotane, “Employers often shy away from hiring people with a visual impairment but little do they realize that the differently abled have immense potential and even pick up faster. With regards to the quality of work output, no one can guarantee this even amongst the sighted. Employers may need to go the extra mile when it comes to interaction, communication and explanation with the visually challenged but sometimes training sessions for both employers and employees can help sensitize and build a better working environment.”
Vedika Ghotane is working on a plan to help more candidates like Vedika Phadke get employed in the mainstream job market. So far her initiative with Empathize, that began 6 years ago, has already helped over 200 visually challenged students across Maharashtra find exam writers. “You’ll be surprised by the number of people who are ready to volunteer as scribes. They are not paid for it and yet they make the time. I always tell my volunteers that it’s a mental exercise, not just for the students appearing for the examinations but even for the writers who get to learn so much.”
When speaking about workplace challenges Vedika Phadke delves on a lesser known but crucial truth, “Treat us as differently abled and not disabled. People need to be made aware of our incapability as well as our capabilities. We need assistance, yes I’ll admit, but we don’t need sympathy. People are not cruel just unaware and hence it’s good to interact with the differently abled and understand them. It’s important to explain the hindrances or technical difficulties we may face in completing a certain task and ask for a solution only after having employed all the means available to us.” She gives an example of how a computer screen-reader can only read printed text and not handwritten text or the contents of an image so in such cases she would readily request for a printed text or an explanation of the image.
Apart from this, she speaks about physical orientation at the workplace as an issue especially when changes are made around the office space and where one can’t always expect colleagues to keep you updated about them. Neither can you discourage people from moving things around too much and so working from home has proven to be a blessing for her. “But then there are also others who feel left out”, says Vedika Ghotane, “as they miss out on peer learning which is crucial to building a healthy working environment. Every job is interdependent and requires you to interact with the rest of the team. Thus, co-workers need to be accommodative of their presence and even include them in office hangouts to make them feel welcomed and informed.” Admittedly, all this takes a certain amount of time and an open mind. A few other tips she suggests include avoiding topics about colors and rather introducing discussions where they too can offer their opinions in simple day-to-day conversations.
We would like to end here with a few words of friendly advice from Vedika Phadke herself, “My message to all the differently abled seeking suitable employment would be to keep yourself updated and knowledgeable. You are going to face incidents both good and bad, so be ready for anything that may come your way. Don’t look for concessions but push yourself to do better. If it hadn’t been for my mother’s constant push to grow and be independent I wouldn’t have reached this far.”
The Bombay Ballet Company is proud to have Vedika Phadke on the team and wish for other companies and organizations to follow suit and adopt inclusion and diversity at their offices as well.
To volunteer and be part of Empathize please visit the official Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/empathizekolhapur
Written By: Naressa Coutinho