It’s difficult to believe that Agatha Christie, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were all affected by a learning disability (LD) that manifested mainly as a difficulty with learning language and, in particular, with writing and reading. Nearly 3-5 per cent of children suffer from these LDs, like dyslexia and dysgraphia, finding it difficult to cope with studies.
In 2002, Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) took up support of the LD community as part of its corporate sustainability programme, supporting various means to ensure that students with LD get their rightful place in the educational system and rediscover the joys of learning.
When TIS began this programme in Mumbai, the LTMG Hospital at Sion (a Mumbai suburb), had perhaps the first and only approved LD certification clinic in Maharashtra. TIS extended support to this clinic through funding and strengthening of infrastructure. Later, the company established the annual Tata Learning Disability Forum (TLDF), the first platform in India for creating awareness about LD in children and sharing and learning from reputed international and Indian LD experts. Students, teachers, parents and experts from the field of education as well as government officials attend this annual one-day interactive seminar and come together in a unique initiative to give impetus to this cause.
The TLDF has significantly increased the level of awareness and sensitivity towards students with LD. The forum was the key catalyst, along with the Sion LD clinic team, to enable practitioners to succeed in making LD a part of the core MBBS curriculum at Mumbai University. TIS’s efforts have also resulted in an increase in the awareness of LD and of the various best practices in detecting LD and remedial education techniques; the company has sponsored and supported research studies of LD-affected students.
Besides this, the company has nurtured several in-house champions for the cause through employee volunteers who participate in various events like the LD forum and the Mumbai Marathon in support of the LD community. Brain Teasers, a handy remedial activity book for students diagnosed with dyslexia, was developed entirely through the voluntary effort of TIS instructional designers, writers and visual artists and published in 2006. It was subsequently updated.
The TLDF itself has now been redesigned as an intensive, three-day, residential training workshop that aims to reach out to many more people beyond Mumbai who can then go back and act as change agents in their cities and provide proper diagnosis and certification to those in need.
“TIS has extended its support to the LD cause beyond the limitations of purely financial contributions,” says JC Mistry, executive vice president, human resources and administration, who has been deeply involved with the project. “The guiding principle at TIS has been to leverage its capabilities, extend the work done in the past, and capitalise on its key assets — knowledge, skills and core competencies — to steadily widen the ambit of our LD initiatives, each year building upon the gains of the past. TLDF seeks to improve the awareness of LD, promote remedial measures and increase the active participation of schools.”
It is not surprising then that TIS was the only company to be awarded the Reader’s Digest Pegasus Award for ‘Contribution to Society – Imparting Education’ for two consecutive years, in 2007 and 2008. In 2011, Nasscom judged the LD initiative an innovative CS application.
Looking ahead, TIS hopes to take this initiative beyond Mumbai and Maharashtra to make an impact on a national and international level.