(IAP 2015) Tiffany Yeh ’17
Tiffany interned with EnAble India, an organization in Bangalore that helps people with disabilities secure employment in the mainstream workforce. She facilitated job training for a pilot program that prepared profoundly disabled candidates for an internship in an IT company. As a virtual instructor, Tiffany monitored group Skype sessions and taught the candidates how to use their laptops with appropriate assistive technologies. She also engaged in curriculum planning and educational content preparation.
Blog 1-New Beginnings in Bangalore
January 5, 2015
It’s been a week since I first set foot in India, and every day I’m amazed by the diversity in sights, smells, and sounds of this country. Before settling down in Bangalore a few days ago, I traveled around the Northern cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. My favorite part was seeing the beautiful Taj Mahal with my own eyes–
Bangalore’s lots of fun, too. I explored the city a little bit over the weekend, and found myself in a washerman’s village. This morning, on my way to work, I tried some paddu for breakfast. Yummm.
But aside from the sightseeing and food tasting, I’m here in India for my internship! Over the next three weeks, I will be working with EnAble India, a non-profit organization that empowers people with disability by helping them secure employment in the mainstream workforce. As in many other countries, people with disability have difficulty finding jobs in India. Out of the 70 million people with disability in India, a mere 100,000 receive employment. One reason why this disparity between supply and demand exists is that many people with disability are unaware of the jobs available to them. Even if they do seek employment, they are not equipped with the necessary skills and work attitude. Many know little about assistive technologies they can use to carry out a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. Furthermore, most companies are unaware that people with disability can work efficiently on a variety of tasks with the help of simple assistive aids. The sympathy and apathy towards people with disability that are prevalent in society at large discourage employers from hiring them.
EnAble India increases the employment rate of people with disability by working with both people with disability and corporations. EnAble India holds training programs in computer literacy, English comprehension, and other skills for people with disability. EnAble India also provides business models for corporations to hire people with disability.
My role at EnAble India is to help take forward their new training program for people with profound disability, or people who have multiple impairments. EnAble India has partnered with the company EMC2 to structure the program as a paid internship at EMC2. The project is unprecedented and quite ambitious, as some of the candidates we’re working with are both hearing and visually impaired, while others have severe muscular dystrophy and thus have control of only their eyes but not other parts of their body. Our goal is for the candidates to be integrated into the company as competent employees by the end of the year.
I will be working with several candidates through one-on-one sessions in computer training. While teaching the candidates computer skills, I will assess their talents, weaknesses, personality traits, and any other pieces of information that can help us better understand them and determine the jobs that best suit their interests and skillsets. In addition to conducting training sessions, I will also help identify and address health issues that may hinder the candidates from performing at their best in the workplace. For example, candidates with muscular dystrophy can avoid slumping or falling from their chairs if they are strapped to their chairs.
I’m excited to see what my internship will bring—the inspiring people I’ll befriend, the various assistive technologies I’ll learn to use, the progress and change I’ll witness. Working in the disability sector aligns well with my personal interests in medicine and international development, especially in the areas of healthcare and education, so I’m hoping that this internship will help elucidate what kind of career I want to have in the future. But I know that no matter what, it’s gonna be a great time!
Blog 2-Building a Diverse and Inclusive Community
Can’t believe I’m already done with 1/3 of my internship! This past week has been full of learning and exposure, as well as traveling back and forth between the EnAble India training center and the EMC company building. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, EnAble India’s main goal is to help people with disability find employment. There’s a systematic process that EnAble India uses to take their candidates from start to finish, and I’m lucky to have observed all of the different steps over the last few days. The journey can be broken into three main parts: Registration à Training à Job Mapping. The steps aren’t mutually exclusive; there’s a lot of going back and forth between training and job mapping to ensure that the candidates are placed in the most suitable jobs and that they are fully prepared to perform the tasks. I’ll discuss each part in more detail–
So first, registration. Saturday was registration day for new candidates interested in EnAble India’s programs. After taking some aptitude tests, the candidates brought their paperwork to the profiling stations, where we asked them about their disabilities, work experience, skillset, education, and other details. After profiling, some of the candidates went through workplace solutions assessment, where we introduced them to various assistive technologies and gauged which ones fit them well. Registration day is the candidates’ first point of contact with the NGO. In a few weeks’ time, they will begin their training sessions.
Now onto training. Training sessions are usually for learning English or computer skills. Candidates rely heavily on assistive technology to perform many computer functions. For example, visually impaired candidates use the NVDA screen reader, which reads out whatever the cursor lies on; candidates with cerebral palsy and who cannot move the mouse with their hands use speech recognition to control the computer; candidates with low vision use a magnifier and on-screen keyboard to enhance visualization of the computer screen. I spent some time this week familiarizing myself with the various assistive technologies that the candidates with profound disability are using, especially speech recognition. I also saw how AT is applied in real life when I met the profound candidates at the EMC office on Wednesday and Thursday to help set up their company laptops. It’s really quite incredible how simple software can empower the candidates to such a large extent. It’s important that I know how to use the AT myself, as my main responsibility next week is to teach some of the profound candidates the computer functions relevant to their EMC jobs, such as email and Excel.
For job mapping, EnAble India works with companies to carve out or identify positions that match the candidates’ qualifications and abilities. It’s a pretty arduous process, as I realized on Wednesday when I joined in on meetings with EnAble India’s employment team, EMC’s director of the profound internship program, and various EMC project managers. First, it takes effort on the project managers’ part to figure out a job that’s substantial but still manageable for someone with profound disability. Second, assigning candidates to project teams is like a utilitarian quest, maximizing happiness with the options we have. Finally, after we’ve decided on the matches, we conduct accessibility testing, where we see if the candidates can indeed perform the tasks required for their jobs with the AT they know. If accessibility testing gives a thumbs up, the matches are complete. If we find that the candidates are unable to complete their responsibilities, we need to re-assign jobs or tweak the jobs. For the EMC profound internship, we’re almost done with assigning candidates to project teams. A couple of matches have yet to be finalized, and this upcoming week we will begin accessibility testing.
Spending the last few days with the candidates and EMC employees has been eye-opening for me. The immense desire that EMC has to build a diverse and inclusive community and the way the EMC employees welcome people with disability as their colleagues and equal team members inspire me to humble myself and be more generous with my own time and energy. I really think that it’s important to include corporations in the dialogue, and that multiple players—NGOs, companies, government, etc.—should work together to empower people with disability. I’m glad to see this partnership between EnAble India and EMC working so well, and I’m hopeful for more collaborations like this to form elsewhere and in the future.
Blog 3- Teaching: Surprises, Challenges, and Growth
January 20, 2015
This past week has been far from predictable. We entered a new phase of the profound internship program on Monday when Roopa, the new trainer, joined the team. Previously, both the training and assistive technology support roles were covered by Muthu—and that is a heck of a lot of work! It’s great that we have one more valuable resource now to expand our bandwidth.
Early in the week, while Roopa got accustomed to her new role and Muthu conducted some accessibility testing at EMC, I held individual training sessions with a few of the candidates. Occasionally, they came to the Enable India training center with their laptops and I went through Excel drills with them in person. I’ll never forget the afternoon I spent here with Manjunatha. Manjunatha has cerebral palsy; he can move his hands but with little control, and he cannot speak very clearly. But he is honestly one of the sweetest and most hardworking people I know! Learning doesn’t come easily or quickly to him—it takes time for him to move the computer mouse or press keys, and I need to repeat myself several times before he understands instructions. He always keeps a big smile on his face, though, and it’s so satisfying to see him happy when he finally masters the material. His resilience and diligence in learning astound me.
For most of the individual teaching sessions, I actually worked with the candidates virtually through Team Viewer, a software that gives me remote control access of the student’s computer. Virtual education posed its challenges—poor internet connection and running multiple assistive technological applications at once caused computer lag issues and made it difficult for me to control the students’ laptops. There were also added communication barriers of not being able to physically show how to do things, instead relying completely on voice calls or typing on a shared notepad on the screen. The obstacles just make victory all the sweeter for both the candidates and trainers, though, when we finally get on the same page and plow through Excel drills together.
The individualized attention/tutoring that I gave some of the candidates is not something that they receive on a regular basis. Most of their learning and work are done through Skype group sessions, more affectionately known as “team huddles.” Each candidate is assigned a role, such as session manager, attendance manager, events manager, and so on. They fulfill their responsibilities during team huddles when they interact with each other, discuss problems together, and push each other to turn in required reflections and forms. Team huddles help the candidates practice interacting with colleagues and simulate the kinds of pressure they might receive in a workplace environment. In between team huddle sessions, candidates work on their own from home and complete employability activities, typing practice, Excel drills, etc. They email their work to the trainers for grading. A lot of our time as trainers is spent monitoring team huddles, and answering questions about exercises or troubleshooting AT issues through Skype chat.
So that’s what I do when I’m entirely on my own—teach through Team Viewer and support the team via Skype. But that’s not all! I’m also working closely with Roopa now on curriculum development. After Roopa settled in, our colleague and friend Reena from the Enable India main office briefed us about the profound internship program from its birth until now. Although I’d been putting pieces together on my own about the profound internship, this was the first time I got a complete explanation/picture of the pilot program. Roopa and I went through a series of meetings, gathering information on what has been done so far and conducting performance review assessments for each candidate. We’re re-structuring the timetable, re-vamping the curriculum, and placing more emphasis on grading assignments and giving feedback in a timely manner. I’ve realized that pilot programs require some trial and error and a lot of flexibility, as we’re coming up with a new model instead of following a well-established path. I’m happy to be playing a role in this transitional period for the profound internship program—once we figure out how to do things the first time, scaling the program and bringing it to more candidates and more companies will be a lot more feasible!
Till next time! 🙂
Blog 4- A Celebration of Friendship
January 24, 2015
After a long day of traveling, I’m finally back in dreary cold but good ole’ Boston! Gosh, time flies—I don’t think I’ve completely processed the fact that I’m finished with my internship at EnAble India and won’t be returning to Bangalore for some time. But I do think that I finished strong this last week, and that I left Bangalore having both contributed to the organization and received a life-changing experience in return. EnAble India and Bangalore, I miss you already…
Anyway, back to my internship. Over this past week, I focused less on individual training sessions and more on other aspects of teaching—assignment grading, documentation of each candidate’s progress, content development, and curriculum planning. Though these tasks may sound less exciting than interacting with the candidates, I’ve come to realize how important all the behind-the-scenes work is, especially for a job training program for people with profound disability. I’m sure that in any class, the students have a diverse set of needs, but I think that teachers are usually able to cater to the group with a “blanket curriculum,” maybe spending extra time outside of class helping those who are struggling to catch up and those who are gifted to challenge themselves with additional advanced material. Even at EnAble India, their training curricula for the visually impaired and hearing impaired are so well-established that they can deliver the content to batch after batch of candidates at a consistently high success rate. Education tends to be, in a way, quite routine. I’m not saying this is bad—I mean, if everyone could have individualized attention from an educator, we would all be learning super efficiently and rapidly. But it’s just not feasible to tutor everyone when education is to be given to all. Mass delivery requires a degree of systemization, I guess.
The tricky thing about the profound internship program is that we can’t afford to ignore the individuality aspect. We have ten candidates with different combinations of disabilities, different sets of assistive technologies, different degrees of work experience, and different levels of proficiency in computer and English skills. For example, even though both Avinash and Manjunatha have cerebral palsy, their profiles are extremely dissimilar. Avinash is an expert programmer; he sits in a wheelchair and cannot move his limbs, but he controls the computer with speech recognition software and can speak English quite well. Manjunatha, on the other hand, doesn’t use any assistive technologies; he moves around with a walker and can somewhat control the computer with his hands, but it’s hard to decipher what he says and his English communication skills are poor, as he grew up learning Kannada, the regional language of Karnataka (where Bangalore is in). Imagine trying to teach Avinash and Manjunatha computer and English at the same time. We’d have to tailor the curriculum and learning goals to each person, right? Also, in order to maximize the progress the candidates make in the time they have before they are handed over to EMC, we also need to grade assignments and give feedback with little turn-over time. Curriculum planning ends up being a daily task, not because we don’t set general learning milestones for the week, but because plans change based on how quickly and how well the candidates pick up the material we’re giving them. There’s a ton of documentation involved, ranging from Excel spreadsheets filled with assignment evaluations, to lists of problems that we’ve encountered and the corresponding solutions, to weekly journal entries on our performance reviews of each candidate.
But wait, there’s more—when creating exercises for the candidates to practice, we also have to consider how the candidates would complete the activities using their assistive technologies. For instance, early in the week we asked the candidates to complete an employability module, which involved comparing two passages and underlining the different characters. We found out that Pradip, one of the deaf-blind candidates, had a really hard time going through the passages letter by letter using his JAWS speech reader software and braille display, as it was taxing on his fingers. In other words, we realized that the employability content we currently have is not accessible to deaf-blind candidates. Now we need to modify the modules so that they still assess similar concepts, but in ways that Pradip can manage more easily.
Basically, there’s a lot that goes into training people with profound disability for corporate employment. But instead of feeling intimidated by the challenges of running this pilot program, EnAble India is overcoming the obstacles one by one with amazing hope and persistence. Everyone at the NGO is learning something new from the profound internship every day, and we all find it super rewarding. We’re hoping to use the lessons learned from this initial partnership with EMC to build a functional model that we can scale in the future with other companies and other candidates with profound disability.
I think that EnAble India is a visionary and pioneering NGO in the disability sector, and it’s truly inspiring to work with them. I’ve been touched by the individuals I have met there. I want to give a special shout-out to a few people: Muthu, my direct supervisor, is one of the most patient people I know. No matter how frustrating things get sometimes, he doesn’t give up on the candidates. He always gives his 100% to taking care of their assistive technology needs, and they can count on him to be their supportive friend for the long haul.
I’ve also very much enjoyed working with Roopa, the trainer of the profound internship program, and Reena, EnAble India’s employability expert. Not only are they smart and know how to handle teaching issues, but they’re also so friendly and have a great sense of humor! They tried teaching me a few words in Kannada and told me about some popular local Indian movies. I’m not sure how much of it I retained though, haha… 😛
And finally, my darling candidates! I can’t even begin to describe how adorable and inspirational they are. I admire them for their strength in character. They have already overcome so many emotional obstacles—having been told by society that they can’t do anything but sit around and sleep, or having been left at home alone for long periods of time while both parents are at work—to become the confident and persistent individuals they are today. Furthermore, they are continuing to break down learning barriers to gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. They’re grateful for what they have been given, proud of what they’ve accomplished, and determined to continuously surprise themselves and those around them for the rest of their lives. Their drive and hope are contagious, and I think everyone can benefit from a dose of what they have. 🙂
So thank you, EnAble India, for the amazing internship over IAP. I’ll miss the friends I made; the little cups of chai tea and coffee I get twice a day in the office; the authentic Indian lunches I have with my colleagues; the Skype chats with the candidates and fellow trainers. I cannot wait to keep up with the program’s progress from afar and to see the internships unfold in success!
- From the left: Vishnu (volunteer manager), Shanti (co-founder), me, Dipesh (co-founder), and Muthu. EnAble India was super kind and gave me farewell gifts, including a pretty folder, several EI publications, and a book about the life stories of inspirational people with disabilities. Ahh thank you!!!