VajiraEllepola (EFC), Sonali De Silva (EFC), Manique Gunaratne (EFC), AnuradhaJayakody (SLIIT), KalhariKaluarachchi (CISCO), AshokaBaddage (CISCO), Priyanthi Perera (Commercial Bank) and Dishan Fernando (Commercial Bank)
Since its inception in 2001, the Network on Disability of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon(EFC) has taken strides, notably in the fields of ICT training, language and skills training and economic empowerment. The ICT Training Centre of the EFC which was launched in 2009 with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the nucleus of the Networkon Disability. Embracing the vision of ‘productive employment through social harmony’, its objective is to develop the employability skills ofpersons with diverse disabilities in the country.
Under the adept guidance of Manique Gunaratne, Head of the ICT Training Centre, it has benefited 159persons with diverse disabilities to date including school leavers, job seekers, undergraduates and those employed from all corners of the island.Gunaratne was recruited as a role model to the Network on Disability in 2001, as the first employee with a disability. Losing her sight 15 years ago due to retinitispigmentosa for which no cure has still been found, Gunaratne’s commitment to the betterment of the visually impaired in the country is exemplary.
Trained both locally and internationally to teach, promote and develop ICT for persons with disabilities, Gunaratne has been nationally and internationally recognised. A Gold Medallist at the World Assembly for Women with Disabilities held in Seoul, Korea in 2011, she is also armed with several coveted national awards including the Keerthi Sri LankabhimaniDeshaBandu Award,Zonta Woman Achiever and Most Inspirational Woman on Special Skills of the Year – all of which was conferred on her last year and the DiriyaKantha Award in 2007.
The Training Centre fully equipped with more than 50 devices specially designed for persons with disabilities and other software, also collaborates with Curtin University of Technology in Australia and SLIIT (Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology) Malabe. The programs are also recognised by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and within the EFC membership which consists of 620 companies.
The ICT Training Centre receiving the CISCO Academy status last year is the latest feather in its cap. “This is a milestone of the ICT Training Centre as it is the only training centre in the country which trains people with diverse disabilities in CISCO courses. CISCO is a globally recognised IT qualification,” said Gunaratne who now joins the international team of trainers to conduct CISCO courses. In April this year, EFC commenced conducting Cisco Computer Network Associate Courses (CCNA). “Specialists reveal that persons with CISCO qualifications are often ranked in the top three highest paid slots. 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.”
The demand for IT workers with CISCO certifications often outstrips the supply, says the Head of EFC’s ICT Training Centre who cites three main objectives of introducing this globally recognised qualification to persons with disabilities. “The prime objective of it is to improve the computer knowledge and networking skills of them. Moreover, it aims to improve the employability of the trainees and create a group of trainers for future training needs.” The training team consists of Manique Gunaratne and Anuradha Jayakody, Senior Lecturer from SLIIT, Malabe.
For the CCNA Course, nine persons with disabilities have been selected. Among them are three vision impaired participants, three hearing impaired participants and three with physical disabilities. On 23October the Commercial Bank donated millions worth ofCISCO equipment for the conduct of the courses.