In news that should bring cheer to the families of young people with special needs, NGO V-Excel Educational Trust has partnered with Wassup On-demand Laundry Brand to create employment opportunities for individuals with mild to moderate disabilities (including Autism, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Disorders).
In a scenario where individuals with special needs rarely ever get the chance to transition from family support to having independent livelihoods, this kind of partnership with private enterprise comes as a welcome initiative that should encourage similar efforts from others working in the field.
Young women, men and youth in the age group of 18–30 years have been chosen for the job, and trainees will be inducted in batches of eight. Though the pilot programme will involve only one Wassup centre to start with, if successfully implemented, it may result in collaborations in other centres and cities too.
According to V-Excel’s PRO Charumati Sriram, what makes the Wassup job ideally suited to the ‘special’ candidates is the combination of learning and therapy it involves. The vocation offers sensory integration through textures and temperatures; gross and fine-motor skills are improved through chores such as buttoning and unbuttoning, folding, sorting, etc; the work helps with eye-hand coordination; the strict sequential routine is especially advantageous to individuals with special needs who require regimented activity in their daily lives; the job reinforces the concepts of colour, number, time and money; it helps improve concentration; the employees gain some technical knowledge and learn safety management; the rewards are immediate — they are able to see the results of their labour, and see customers go away satisfied.
Most importantly, the fact that they have been given the opportunity to earn a living helps boost the self-esteem and self-confidence of these special individuals.
Dr Vasudha Prakash, Founder-Trustee, V-Excel says, “Generally, the reactions from family members has been positive and everyone is enthused about the direction of the programmes. The vocational training programmes have immense scope for financial independence and dignified living.” But she is also quick to add that these are early days yet and that “there haven’t been any stark challenges at this point given that the programmes are still rather in their infancy. It took us some time to identify those trainees who possess the necessary skills for vocations and we are now building on those strengths, so that eventually, they themselves will be in a position to train others.”
Ali Asgar Lohani, one of the candidates chosen in the first batch, is a 19-year old, non-verbal young man who has cerebral palsy combined with mental retardation. His musculoskeletal disorder (MSDs) with deviation at the wrist meant that he had many kinds of difficulties with manipulation, coordination, and fine motor skills and could not hold small objects like beads, for example. But now his mother Shirini is delighted that therapy and exercise have enabled Ali “to perform all laundry services with verbal prompting. He is good in colour concepts and in buttoning clothes despite his physical issues. He has become very adept at using the vacuum steam iron to press all kinds of garments. He is now able to iron twenty garments in a day but needs a little more training in folding the ironed clothes. Once the ironing is done, Ali is able to stack the ironed clothes, pack them and deliver them to the customer.”
Tasneem Asgar Thoriyawala is 21 years old, partially verbal, diagnosed with mental retardation, and has been in the Youth Empowerment Services Unit of V-Excel since 2015. Her father, Asgar has this to say about her progress: “Through patience and diligence, Tasneem now shows a keen interest in all facets of laundry. The routine of the tasks has helped improve her sense of responsibility, and consequently, all associated skills. While her hand strength needs to improve, she is able to iron around ten garments a day with minimal supervision. She requires some help in folding the clothes once the ironing is complete, but takes great pride in completing the entire cycle of work from collection to delivery. Tasneem has also learned to identify different garments through the fabric texture and through colours.”
One of the most crucial aspects of assimilating someone with special needs into a regular job has to do with physical safety. How does V-Excel gauge this aspect when looking for suitable enterprises to partner with? Charumati Sriram explains that safety is one of the key issues addressed. “The hazards of using electricity, sharp equipment and hot equipment are explained to the trainees and there will be proper monitoring during the vocation’s implementation. The ironing equipment in the laundry is designed with several safety features.”
As of now, graduating trainees will either be absorbed by Wassup franchises or be given the opportunity to start their own Wassup franchise. Efforts are also on to involve others working in the area of disability. “We will be working in partnership with Wassup to promote awareness and advocacy in the disability sector and invite more individuals from the sector to join us,” says Charumati, emphasising that this is only the beginning. “We are actively seeking other CSR partnerships and also expanding our vocational training programmes in tier-two towns all over India where the need is acute.”
There are other areas of enterprise that may be ideal for this kind of partnership — jobs in printed circuit board, printing and documentation, housekeeping and hospitality industries can be a good fit.
A note on the partners
V-Excel Educational Trust’s programmes attempt to build sustainable livelihoods through vocational training for children with special needs. The NGO offers a range of interventions and services that include therapies, assessments, and support systems — counselling and psychotherapy, medical services and remedial programmes. Their aim is to achieve integration and they do this through advocacy for equal rights, inclusiveness, independent living, self-determination and employment for individuals with special needs.
More about their work on www.v-excel.org and www.facebook.com/freehearts
Wassup is India’s leading on-demand laundry service with branches in Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai, Mumbai, Cochin, Pune and Hyderabad.
More details on www.wassupondemand.com