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Hyderabad: Society often considers a disability as an inability. Access to education and employment becomes difficult, enduring stereotypes becomes an everyday experience and the look of pity and patronising attitude turns daunting. Rowing against the tide of discrimination, KFC’s newly appointed first specially-abled Regional General Manager (RGM) in Hyderabad, Srikanth Jarugu is the epitome of determination and hard work.

Though born as a healthy baby, Srikanth fell severely ill at the age of three. “I was hospitalized. I recovered a few days later through medication and prayers, but unfortunately lost my ability of hearing and speech. Life wasn’t easy for me, but my family never let my disability hamper my growth and supported me even in the toughest of times,” he says.

In 2008, through Hyderabad Deaf Sports Association, he became aware of special restaurants run by KFC which are operated by specially-abled persons. When a Special KFC opened in Hyderabad, he joined as a team member and later rose through the ranks of Shift Manager, Assistant Restaurant Manager, and now a proud RGM. He says that KFC has always been very supportive, and focused on inclusivity, especially for the specially abled.

“They have several programs that train, retain and aid in the progress of specially-abled employees. We have a sign language coach who works very closely with specially-abled team members, understanding their requirements, and guiding them. People here are also encouraged to learn sign language.”

Initially, Srikanth had difficulty interacting with customers. But with the help of his colleagues and his sheer persistence, he now manages the entire KFC restaurant at Central Mall. He takes care of quality checks, coordinates with vendors, and manages any customer complaints. “My journey doesn’t stop here,” he says.

Srikanth aspires to become an Area Coach one day and is keen on doing his part in encouraging his fellow specially-abled colleagues. To other specially-abled persons, he has just one-line advice – never give up.

“Hard work will always pay off, be passionate and believe in yourself,” he shares. When asked about what better could be done to support the specially-abled individuals, sharing an instance when a customer communicated in sign language, he says that more people learning to communicate in sign language will lower the barrier, smoother the interactions, and increase the sense of inclusivity.

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Author: Howard Caldwell