The World Disabilities Day came and went recently. Experts spoke on providing employment opportunities to the disabled, arming them with requisite skills and making them self-reliant. But what continues to remain near impossible is a disabled person becoming an entrepreneur, and in turn, offering employment to others.
Samuel Mani has turned that theory on its head. Bound to a wheelchair, he is the founder-director of a computer hardware and software maintenance firm called Neutron. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that not only is he financially independent, he today employs six people in his firm, all able-bodied.
Says Mani, “Disabled people also have responsibilities. I am responsible for my employees. They look up to me to bring new business and give direction to their dreams. At the end of the day, I have to run a business for the abled world.”
As a victim of cerebral palsy, he was not ready to sit at home, making candles or paper bags. “I love challenges and everyday bring new challenges. Actually, that's good because as a disabled person, life is full of challenges,” he says with a big smile.
He was trained and mentored by Dr. Thilakam of Arunim, who has a passion and obsession to search for employment and livelihood solutions for people with disabilities to lead a better quality of life, and has worked for the past twenty years in the disability sector in various capacities as a Special Educator. She was instrumental in connecting with people in the industry who helped him get started.
Many advised him to apply for a public call office offered by the government. But he did not want to sit in a little cubicle all his life.
Mani just got appointed as a Microsoft authorised refurbisher, ( MAR ) the first disabled person to do so. Under the agreement, he will be refurbishing used computers with free of cost original software provided by Microsoft. As part of it global philanthropy campaign, Microsoft is partnering FICCI to put in place a supply chain for used computers, which in turn will be refurbished by the appointed MAR. These computers will in turn be sold to NGOs and educational institutions at a discounted price.
Basically MAR is a global programme that Microsoft runs across its regions to spur affordable access to low cost refurbished PCs. However, this is the first time that Microsoft has appointed a disabled person as a refurbisher who will be offered the software free of cost. They plan to take this programme to Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Employers want to employ a disabled person because he can be a potential asset. And that can happen only when they offer them opportunities to enhance their skills and become employable. They need to remember that disabled people can be part of the workforce with a little bit of help.
This kind of result-oriented intervention can not only bridge the digital divide but open income generating opportunities for the disabled. Disabled people are good at computers.
Samuel Mani feels that a PC is a very important device for the disabled, even otherwise. “It was through the computer that I first got an opportunity to express myself. My body does not listen to my commands but my PC does,” he says poignantly. Hope our policy makers are listening.
So, all the corporates out there, who want to upgrade their offices and would like to bring in new computers, can do their bit by sending their old PCs to Neutron Computers – in fact Sam has a system in place to have them collected – and achieve a double win-win situation!
“Disabled people also have responsibilities. I am responsible for my employees. They look up to me to bring new business and give direction to their dreams. At the end of the day, I have to run a business for the abled world.”