India Inclusion Summit (IIS) is an event to celebrate the achievements of the differently abled and has been instrumental in spreading awareness about diversity and inclusion. This annual event has been conducted in Bangalore for the past six years. This is a brain child of V R Ferose, MD of SAP. [BTW, if you have not read Ferose’s book “Gifted”, do pick up a copy and read.. it is a wonderful celebration of the lives of 15 people who overcame adversity of special needs to scale great heights]. Over the years, several organizations have made yeomen contributions to IIS. This year’s event was sponsored by Allegis and the team of volunteers from Allegis played a very significant role in the planning and smooth conduct of the event. I was fortunate to attend this event at Bangalore on Sunday.
In order to spread the message of inclusion to the community, IIS volunteers had sought for messages from people interested in the topic and put these messages as a huge collage in the hallway of the event – indeed goes to show how much the message has been internalized in the community. As very ardent believers in diversity, special needs and inclusion, my wife Lakshmi Ramesh, son Venkatesh Ramesh and I also sent our personal messages for the event which figured in the collage.
The event is a one of a kind congregation of people with interest and experience in the area of differently abled, diversity and inclusion. It is unique in several ways: Firstly, it is perhaps only event of this scale (> 600 participants) that is completely run by volunteers. It is completely free of charge for attendees (truly extending inclusion so as not to exclude anyone for economic reasons!). As an event, it also differs from traditional conferences and workshops in that there are no boring inauguration and valedictory functions where some politician or dignitary who has no idea of what is happening comes and reads out without any passion or involvement a speech prepared by someone (often with meaningless statistics). This event is 100% by differently abled and for differently abled. There were about ten talks all by people are either having special needs or have been associated with someone who has special needs. Each talk was less than fifteen minutes and brought out the passion, commitment, struggles and successes of individuals. And the talks were fully ex tempore as the messages were coming straight from the heart!
There were a lot of things I could glean from the various speakers’ personal experiences and sharing below some of these.
“Differently abled people are often under estimated and cocooned by people around saying ‘oh only he can do very little’.. very seldom they are given opportunities that are given to other people.. If only they can give more opportunities and treat differently abled people on par with others, they can even scale greater heights. The community should come with an open mind” — By a young lady who was disowned by her family at 13 because of a bone disorder went against all odds and got IAS and a good rank in UPSC in her first attempt.
“People think inclusion is just ‘tolerating the individual’. Really, inclusion is not merely tolerating. It is about discovering and harnessing the FULL potential of an individual. This is seldom done”, said a young man who was born blind and has gone on to become a corporate lawyer. How often we see schools and institutions say they “accept” people with special needs but in reality all they do is to “tolerate” them!
One of the most sobering messages was given by a person recovered from polio who presented the Accessible India Campaign: “All of us have temporary ability. An accident or illness can take it all away! Hence it is essential to have empathy people with special needs as with a turn of fate or ill luck, we may find ourselves in the same situation”. Wow, indeed the phrase “temporary ability” should root each of us to the fragile reality of life!
Most speakers consistently reiterated that differently abled people do not want sympathy, they want empathy; do not want to be treated as special or less competent but as “normal” and as equally capable as others and given challenging tasks; do not want to be isolated but be considered part of the team. They too have the same aspirations of love, affection and camaraderie with the team.
In every conference, I have always found one or two “Eureka” moments where some significant – yet very obvious – truths hit home. In this conference I had two such Eureka moments: First was when Senator Tom Harkins from the US spoke. His key message was that when you design something for people with special needs, it can have even larger benefit for the entire population. His cartoon (see in the photos below) to illustrate this was just FABULOUS! Wow! What a profound thought! Make it easier for the differently abled, and then you automatically derive a larger benefit for all the rest of the community. This applies across the board. As a striking example, if we make education easily accessible to the differently abled, will not everyone benefit from it? Food for thought for our policy makers!
The second “Eureka” moment was the concluding remark made by Ferose: He said “we have been having IIS as an annual event for the last six years; it is time to make this a movement – an ongoing effort to make inclusion as a part of our daily lives”. Yes, indeed, this is true of any new thought process that comes along. IIS over the years has moved the feelings about inclusion in the community from denial to acceptance to solutions and success stories; it is only a matter of time before we see diversity and inclusion as a way of life.
Thanks to my friends in Allegis – , Tatavarti Pravini, Prasad BM, Srinath Bangalore and all others for giving me an opportunity to attend the event and for all the help over the years. Being associated with Allegis for the past four+ years means a lot to me and my family.
As I walked out of the hall I caught a glimpse of the quotes from the previous years’ events. The quote by the Team Director of KKR “What do we leave behind? It is the number of people we touch, the number of people we receive love from”
About the author :
Ramesh Gopalaswamy has thirty years of international experience. His vast industry experience covers both India and abroad. He played a key role in the establishment of Oracle India Development Center, built it from zero to about 500 people as a center of excellence and was its former Senior Director. He is currently an independent consultant, was a visiting faculty at IIT Madras and Adjunct Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology Bengaluru (IIIT – B), Amrita School of Business, Coimbatore and SSN School of Management, Chennai.
He is the author of the National Award winning book Managing Global Software Projects, The ACE of Soft Skills Attitude, Communication and Etiquette for Success, Software Testing Principles and Practices and Software Maintenance. Two of these books have also been translated into Chinese. He is one of the handful of authors to be picked up worldwide for contribution to a IEEE book on Global Software Engineering practices. He currently offers consultancy services in the areas of project management and soft skills to several top companies in India and abroad. He has been the chairperson and invited speaker in a number of national and international conferences. He is in the Academic Advisory Board of Project Management Institute, India. He holds an MS in engineering management from Stanford University, California, MS in computer science from IIT Madras and BE from IISc Bengaluru. He is currently enjoying his retired life in Chennai.