[Women's Day Special] Breaking Barriers of Disabilities, Shilpi Kapoor

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According to the United Nations, a majority of the world’s 600 million people suffering from disabilities are concentrated in low or middle income countries. Shilpi Kapoor, founder and director of BarrierBreak, says that between 70 to 100 million of these afflicted individuals can be found in India. As an entrepreneur and an accessibility evangelist, Shilpi has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of these disabled and disadvantaged individuals. In 1995, she founded BarrierBreak with the sole vision to ‘break the barriers of knowledge and disabilities.’

Today, not only does BarrierBreak provide customers with accessibility services, training, and assistive technologies, but they have also provided equal opportunity employment for persons with disabilities, who make up 75% of the BarrierBreak staff. Their assistive technology includes software, hardware, and devices to address visual impairment, learning impairment, mobility impairment, speech impairment, hearing impairment, and have expanded into services for the elderly.

“Adoption in India has been very slow,” explains Shilpi. “A lot of work is yet to be done. We need better policy support from the government, and better legal structures, and we need to update our education. We need an action plan for businesses to show them how they can implement these things rather than only look at policy.”

Her fight to spread awareness of disabilities and to provide services and products to improve the lives of those affected by them has established Shilpi as a model entrepreneur. In light Women’s Day, we decided to connect with Shilpi to get her insights on her own journey and women entrepreneurship in general. Excerpts

Q. Who inspired you to be a woman entrepreneur?

There have been lots of people along the way from my reporting boss who was paralyzed to my granddad who inspired me to start something. My mom and dad as well, my mom was an entrepreneur in her own way throughout her life, and I have always seen that within my family which has inspired me to be an entrepreneur.

Q. What do you think needs to be done to make the environment more conducive for women so there are more women entrepreneurs?

When I meet women who want to be entrepreneurs I think for a lot of them it’s about having challenges related to how they will manage their family. Second, how will they raise money? I think the key is to set up community structures or something like that, which can support these women. I think this would be of benefit to a large number of women. I remember when I got funded, I didn’t know single other women entrepreneur that I could call and talk to about any problems that she was facing on her journey. Today obviously that has changed a little and there are a lot more women out there, but there aren’t as many as we should have.

I think we need that healthy conversation among women to understand the problems that we all face, challenges that are there, and opportunities so we can understand to support each other. I remember when I was trying to raise debt and a lot of the banks would talk about women entrepreneurs and loans and say there’s a big need for these loans. I started to research all these banks that talked about this, but none of the women really knew that these loans existed and as a woman entrepreneur you would get a 1% reduction on your loan. I think if the structures were there that it would be much easier for women to realize what is available.

Q. What is your advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?

If you have a dream, follow it. If you really believe in something, do it. I know it’s a balancing act in life, but you want to be something for yourself that inspires you along the way and if you have such a dream go ahead and do it.

YourStory wishes its readers, Happy Women's Day!