As soon as we walked into Clever Fox Café at Red Fox Hotels, the economical wing of the Lemon Tree Hotels, we were greeted with friendly smiles. The hotel chain currently owns and operates 40 hotels across 23 cities with over 4000 employees. Began at the thought of the Chairman & Managing Director, Patu Keswani, it started with the simple idea that everyone must be given equal opportunity to employment.
Today, over 13% of their employees are persons with disabilities who are either hearing-and-speech impaired, orthopedically handicapped, have Down Syndrome or are Autistic. “An inclusive work culture is a part of our business model. Everyone must be provided the same opportunities as others to realise their full potential,” says Aradhana Lal, Vice President-Sustainability Initiatives at The Lemon Tree Hotel Company.
The hotel follows a special induction training programme to induct persons with Down Syndrome in partnership with Muskaan, an NGO working with persons with intellectual disabilities. “Over time we have developed a programme that is a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge. We ensure the training is balanced, keeping in mind their short attention span” says Surender Singh, Employment Manager from Muskaan. The training comprises of a 6-9 month long programme that extends up to a year, if required. The trainees then go through a recruitment process by the hotel before being confirmed as employees.
From the back area to the buffet and even at guest tables, they work across different areas of food and beverage service. “We have observed that persons with Down Syndrome come with the unique ability to be diligent, loyal and detail oriented. With focused training and mentorship by their managers, anything is possible,” adds Aradhana. She also adds that their diligence with tasks and responsibilities adds pressure on the rest of the staff to follow strict standard operating procedures.
Focused on team work, the hotel staff are also trained to work with persons with Down Syndrome. On working within a team, Arun Singh, manager of Citrus Café at Lemon Tree Premier says, “I enjoy coming to work every day because of the diversity and the positive energy it brings.” And when persons with Down Syndrome feel overwhelmed, the managers and staff usually step in to reassign tasks. The staff also wear a card that states their disability to educate the guests and prevent misunderstandings.
“I enjoy all tasks and working with my friends here. I feel happy coming to work,” says Vinyas Rao, employee with Down Syndrome while also signing the same. Most of the employees with Down Syndrome have also picked up Indian Sign Language to communicate with their colleagues who are hearing-and-speech impaired. This goes to show that an inclusive and equal work space can make people with Down Syndrome equal members of community.