Feeling his way with a white cane, Vishal Agrawal, 29, reaches his foreign exchange trading desk on the fifth floor of Standard Chartered Plc’s office in Mumbai’s business district each day by 8:00 a.m.
While his eight other colleagues watch blinking screens to make trades, Agrawal listens to price movements on the trading terminal via special speech-recognition software feeding into a device in his left ear.
“I hear the moves and make trades,” Agrawal, who turned blind nine years ago, said in an interview on the floor where he started as an emerging markets trader in September 2013. “With technology to help me, I don’t find it harder to trade, in spite of my visual impairment.”
He’s doing as well as many of his fellow traders and has potential to grow further in the company, said Gopikrishnan MS, Agrawal’s boss and the Mumbai-based head of foreign exchange, rates and credit for South Asia at Standard Chartered. Agrawal’s trading limits have steadily increased since he started, Gopikrishnan said without providing more details, citing company policy. But that’s a sign that Agrawal is good at his job.
India has more blind people than any country in the world, with 5.4 million, and the visually impaired are often stigmatized by employers who fear the disability will impede their work and won’t hire them, said Bhushan Punani, executive secretary at the Blind People’s Association in India. Successes like Agrawal’s “are few and far between,” he said.
“Till the stigma that society attaches to the blind is done away with, it is a tough battle for them to do well in a career,” said Punani.
Standard Chartered aims to be the employer of choice for banking professionals with disabilities, and has hired some visually impaired people in senior roles around the world, a Mumbai-based spokesman said, without specifying how many. Additionally, the bank has hired disabled people for entry-level sales jobs in nine countries, he said.
There are only a handful of known blind finance professionals in the world. Wall Street has at least two blind women: Laura Sloate, who co-founded Sloate Weisman Murray & Co. and manages the Strong Value fund; and Lauren Oplinger, who works in municipal bond sales at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. A blind money manager at BlueCrest Capital Management, Ashish Goyal, who had previously been a London-based portfolio manager at JPMorgan, left BlueCrest in May. He served as a mentor to Agrawal when he was looking for a job, he said by telephone from London.
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