Serein

Impact of the Pandemic on the Disabled

Naureen Bhullar

- May 27, 2020

It is widely believed that people with disability (PwD) face greater challenges during a pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disabled people are at a greater risk of catching Covid-19 due to the multiple barriers including inability to engage in basic hygiene like washing hands thoroughly, difficulty in social distancing especially if they are in a care facility, and the common need for physical touch to access their environment. WHO also urged governments to take proactive steps for people with disabilities. There are certain populations of people with Down’s Syndrome, who are more likely to have heart defects and cardiac problems and consequently at greater risk.

Further people with intellectual disabilities were substantially more likely to experience loneliness in a pre-Covid world than the general population. And this is likely to further worsen in a lock-down situation, which has been enforced in many parts of the world. If family members are affected by the virus and quarantined and no other caregiver is available, this could lead to tragic consequences like the Chinese teenager with cerebral palsy who died after he did not have access to food, drink or personal hygiene for a week. The mental health of caregivers is also a matter of concern as they need additional support.

The Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment issued guidelines to the states and Union Territories for protection and safety of people with disabilities. These guidelines focused on providing access to the required precautions and essential services. But the ground reality was quite different especially for people who need external support for their everyday activities. Virali Modi tweeted the following message:

I’m disabled and I live alone, I need my maid who cooks and does other physiological care for me. Due to the virus, she won’t be able to come. What do we do about these situations?

Sometimes the guidelines issued by government bodies were confusing and incomprehensible for people with intellectual disabilities that they did not go out for groceries or essentials. 

When Ravi Kaushal, a special educator for an NGO dedicated to pre-vocational and vocational training of adults with IDs in Jalandhar, had a video-chat with his student Luv during the lock-down, Luv’s sister, Ravneet was amazed to see the intense concentration in Luv’s eyes as he saw and heard his teacher on the phone. He had never paid any attention to the phone previously and this starkly different behaviour astounded his family. He reached out to touch the phone a few times and folded his hands in greetings multiple times. 

Other special educators at this same NGO were asked to maintain weekly interactions with their students. Here are some of their notes from their interactions:

Hardeep’s father said that his routine is spoilt now. He has reverted to his earlier behaviour of not chewing his food thoroughly and spilling food all over himself.”

“Rohan’s caregiver at home said that Rohan goes to sleep right after his breakfast and sleeps a lot during the day.” 

“Most students are getting bored because they have no outing. Some of them help with household chores but after the lockdown, they will have to be trained again.”

Ephilia’s home and neighbourhood in Santa Cruz, Mumbai was usually abuzz with a lot of social activity throughout the week before the lockdown. She loves watching the passing trains and looks forward to interacting with visitors to her home as well as her neighbours. However, the sudden lockdown upset her significantly.

“Suddenly, everything stopped. And she was in a state of shock”, says her mother, Fatima D’Souza. “Cookie [Ephilia’s nickname] cannot speak and she started expressing [herself] by screaming and yelling from the window, so loudly she was screaming that my friend from four buildings away called to inquire.  I told her that she has not accepted this sudden change. She is not seeing anybody. Only birds are flying around.  No human beings. So, I kept singing while cooking so she has some entertainment.” Eventually, Ephilia calmed down after her mother prayed. “But the first few days were very bad for her. I had no control over the shouting.” 

Ephilia and Fatima

Sahil, who is on the autism spectrum, felt uncomfortable with the sudden change in his daily routine of going to the sheltered workshop, according to his mother, Alka Baghdadi. Initially, he missed his work routine as well as his daily evening visits to the nearby tea stall. He would continue to visit the tea stall with his father for 4-5 days even though it was closed.  Eventually he adapted to the new routine. The vocational centre’s staff members call Sahil every day which reassures him.

Alka and Sahil

Similarly, Girish misses his bi-weekly music lessons, grocery shopping, and the social get-togethers. His sister and primary caregiver, Rekha Balgi, who is a special educator herself, has a planned schedule for him at home. He asks about his classmates from the music class and has spoken to his teacher a few times. Rekha is cautious about following all rules for disinfection of items before taking them inside their home as they are the only members in the household and does not want to be in a position where they have to seek medical help. 

Rekha and Girish

People with intellectual disabilities often have co-existing mental health problems including anxiety. Structure and routines can reduce anxiety for people with IDs, but this was disrupted with the lockdown. Now people with IDs are also getting used to this new routine with some difficulty. The need of the hour is to support the caregivers of people and their educators when they get back to their older routine, which may also change significantly in post-Covid times. 


About the Author and Serein

Naureen Bhullar got her PhD in Psychology from Virginia Tech and taught at Widener University in Chester, PA where she was tenured. She did her post-doctoral work with social psychologist, Ramadhar Singh at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB). She is currently engaged in research across different topics including emotion and emotional contagion, meaning in life, mindfulness, autism in adolescents and adults, women in STEM, and diversity and inclusion. She has published her research in different journals, including Psychological Studies, IIMB Management Review, Psychologia, Personal Relationships, Advances in Autism, Current Psychology and more. She is a reviewer of articles published in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Psychological Reports, North American Journal of Psychology, and Advances in Autism. She is also engaged in research with Serein, which includes writing the yearly handbook, assessment of training sessions, and co-creating activities for different workshops on biases and sexual harassment.  

Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build safer work cultures and sexual harassment (POSH) trainings either in person or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH training in India and the US) send us a note.

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Abhishek is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.
 
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Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

Dr. Ishani Roy

Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

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Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

Bianca leads the compliance partnerships and workshops on anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. She has 100+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace.

Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

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Head of Operations

Aparna is leading the finance and operations at Serein. She has also been responsible for Serein’s online platform, customer management, and marketing.

She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

Faakirah Irfan

Head of Legal

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She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

Faakirah is an experienced legal professional. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in law with a focus on women’s rights and policy analysis from the University of Kashmir. She holds a Master of Law degree specializing in alternative dispute resolution from O.P Jindal School of Law.

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Guest Consultant: Gender

Ruchika assists with research and facilitation of sessions on domestic violence, sexual harassment, employee well-being, and women’s leadership. She is a feature writer for Serein’s blogs where she writes about gender, women’s history, domestic violence, and sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

Ruchika is a published author with books like ‘Concubinage, Race and Law in Early Colonial Bengal: Bequeathing Intimacy, Servicing the Empire’ published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis publications. She has been teaching History at the University of Delhi for over a decade. She has a Ph.D. in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Arathi Kannan

Head of DEI: India, Global

Arathi leads the design and execution of DEI measurement tools for global partners. These include Serein’s Diversity Index, the scope of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotions, and the scope of unconscious bias in external messaging. 

She has also designed a standardized tool to review company policies and products through an inclusion lens. Arathi leads workshops on inclusion, unconscious bias, domestic violence, mental health, and well-being. 

Arathi is a published researcher with Master’s degrees in Applied Psychology and Criminology from Bond University, Australia. Her experience includes working with people from different backgrounds, including refugee groups.

Thejaswini CA

LMS Platform Associate

Thejaswini is responsible for the operations and maintenance of Serein’s in-house e-learning platform. She assists customers to deliver learning content and assess employee engagement through Serein’s tracking system. 

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Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

Bhavini Pant

Safety and PoSH expert

Bhavini serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in industries like education, healthcare, IT, Pharma, and more. She has 70+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace and supporting partner organizations on the legal procedure and best practices for workplace safety.

Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

Kirtika N

Safety and PoSH expert

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Kirtika serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in fintech, healthcare, business management, gaming, and more. She has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedure and best practices.

She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

Safety and PoSH expert

Sharanya serves as a PoSH external member for 15+ companies in e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, SaaS, and more. She supports partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices to build safe work cultures.

She has been involved in the review of PoSH policies, labour law compliances, and research regarding the risk of secondary victimisation of complainants under the PoSH Act.

Sharanya graduated with BBA, LLB (Hons.) degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She has experience in PoSH and employment law with notable law firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co., J. Sagar and Associates, among others.

Nandini Abraham

Statistical Analyst

Nandini conducts extensive industry-specific research on DEI trends in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Nandini is responsible for developing statistical models for DEI assessment on Serein’s DEI SaaS Tool. She designs measurement tools for DEI benchmarking, inclusion assessments, and employee experience surveys.

Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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HR and Compliance Lead

Nithya drives operational excellence within the HR function. She ensures that Serein maintains the highest standards of HR practices and ethical conduct. Her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities as she also serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients, specialising in preventing workplace harassment through the PoSH vertical.

Nithya has graduated in Commerce from the University of Lucknow and has rich experience in hiring and retaining the best talents in the industry with companies like BukuWarung and Belong.co.

Sri Padmavathi C

Finance Consultant

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Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
 
She holds an MBA with Finance Specialisation from Annamalai University, and has also has done CA articleship under CA Tom Joseph’s guidance.

Anisha Debnath

PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator

As a PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator, Anisha is primarily responsible for conducting sessions and facilitating conversations that enable building of safe and inclusive workplaces for all. Anisha also undertakes in-depth research into various Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues that plague our work cultures today. All of this research goes into designing bespoke sessions and curating interactive learning experiences for several of Serein’s partners. 

Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Aseem Deuskar

Inclusive Workspace Architect

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Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.


Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.

 

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