This post was written by guest blogger Emma Reid, marketing manager for Cisco’s Social Innovation Group, Asia-Pacific region.
In 2001, the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) launched the Network on Disability, a program designed to connect Sri Lanka’s disabled community to meaningful jobs. The EFC’s ICT Training Center, which launched in 2009 with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), has empowered more than 160 disabled people with the IT and language skills training they’ll need to thrive in a digital world. The EFC’s objective is to develop the employability skills of people with diverse disabilities in Sri Lanka by embracing the vision of “productive employment through social harmony.”
In 2014, the training center achieved status as a Cisco Networking Academy. “This is a milestone of the ICT Training Center, as it is the only center in Sri Lanka which trains people with diverse disabilities in Cisco courses,” said Manique Gunaratne, Head of the ICT Training Centre. This year, EFC started offering Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) courses to students with disabilities. For the CCNA course, nine men and women with disabilities have been selected. Among them are three visually impaired participants, three hearing impaired participants, and three with physical disabilities. On October 23, the Commercial Bank donated millions worth of Cisco equipment to be used for the courses. Gunaratne, herself, lost her sight 15 years ago due to retinitispigmentosa, a disease for which no cure has been found.
“Cisco’s own research indicates that certified professionals often earn as much as 10% more than peers without Cisco credentials working in similar routing and networking jobs.”
Gunaratne was recruited as a role model to the Network on Disability in 2001 as the first employee with a disability. Trained both locally and internationally to teach, promote, and develop IT skills for individuals with disabilities, Gunaratne has been nationally and internationally recognized. In addition to winning a Gold Medal at the Assembly for Women with Disabilities in Seoul, South Korea in 2011, she also received several coveted national awards in 2007, including the Keerthi Sri Lankabhimani Desha Bandu Award, the Zonta Woman Achiever, and Most Inspirational Woman on Special Skills of the Year. Gunaratne’s commitment to the betterment of the visually impaired in Sri Lanka is exemplary.
The training center is fully equipped with more than 50 devices specially designed for individuals with disabilities as part of a collaboration with Curtin University of Technology in Australia and SLIIT (Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology) Malabe. The programs are also recognized by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and within the EFC membership, which consists of 620 companies.
“The prime objective of the program is to improve the computer knowledge and networking skills of our students,” said Gunaratne. “Moreover, it aims to improve the employability of the trainees and create a group of trainers for future training needs.”
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