Workplace only for differently-abled

Swayam, a parent support group of differently-abled adults opened its first sheltered work unit on April 1st.

Ever heard of a workplace only for individuals with disabilities? Yes, Swayam, a parent support group of the differently-abled adults opened its first sheltered work unit at 4th Block, Koramangala extension on April 1st. There seems to be no time to waste for this group of individuals with challenges as they have already got their first work order. Their first assignment is to decorate marada baganna sets for a wedding to be held in May.

Reshmi, a Swayam member with Lalitha Bilgi. Pic credit: Swayam.

“Swayam is not an NGO or a non-profit group,” clarifies Lalitha Bilgi, Parent Promoter of Swayam who came up with the idea of the sheltered unit. She says it is a social enterprise as well as a business venture for individuals with challenges.  “Any individual with challenges, once they are out of school can join Swayam,” says Lalitha who provided space for the sheltered unit.

"We would like to call our children Swayam members", says Lalitha. Every Swayam member has to be accompanied by a family member or any one who can take care of the member’s needs. The sheltered work unit is open from 10.30 am to 3 pm on week days and the members will distribute whatever they earn equally. Swayam parent members say they will launch a website soon to market their products.

Lalitha recalls a news feature which she saw ten years ago while she was in Delhi.  She says a physically challenged person was struggling to get into a bus with his lunch-box in one hand and a bag in the other hand. The person was heading to his work place.  She said she asked herself then – why not make things easier for such people?

Lalitha vaguely had this idea of a sheltered work unit in mind since then. She said she wanted to experience working with other children and not only her son who is living with Down’s syndrome. She eventually worked with other children during hobby classes which Swayam conducted at Bethany Special School, Koramangala.

The hobby classes were held for three hours on Saturdays for the last four years for the students of Bethany Special School. Some of the activities the students were trained in were scanning, making gift cards, CD covers, cloth bags, baking and so on.

Some of the activities Swayam members are trained in include scanning, making gift cards, CD covers, cloth bags, baking and so on. Pic credit: Swayam.

As a training exercise, the students had done scanning Employee’s State Insurance (ESI) cards and stamping envelops for Kou-Chan, a company which provides manpower and BPO services. They have also made New Year greeting cards for the company for which they were paid. Swayam members also showcased their work at the 2009 Bangalore fashion week held at a five-star hotel in Electronic City.  Babita Jaishankar, a fashion designer approached them to design bags for her.

Lalitha’s vague idea of a sheltered unit got an impetus after her attending a short term course called Management Programme for Women Entrepreneurs (MPWE) in IIM-B about two years ago. “I became more confident”, she says. “What is the option for them once they get out of school?”, she adds.

Currently the sheltered work unit has five members who are all above 18 years of age and Bilgi says the number is expected to grow as many parents of individuals with challenges are enquiring about the sheltered work unit. The current members have recently finished their schooling and all of them attended the hobby classes.

The individuals will also be in charge of the functioning of their work place such as watering the plants, cleaning up the place, cooking and so on. From time to time they will also be given writing exercises so that they will not be completely out of touch with education, say the parent members.

“The kids are very comfortable with each other. They are not that comfortable when they meet other kids”, says Pushpa Hemnani, one of the parent members.

The idea of teaching the students how to use computers in the hobby classes was initiated by Lalitha. She said she got the idea after attending a workshop for teachers by Intel R while she was teaching in Bishop Cottons Girls’ School about six years ago. She was a teacher in the school for about eight years until she quit in 2007 to join Kou-Chan as one of the Directors.

“Before joining the course I never used a computer”, she says with a smile.   

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