India is home to 2.7 crore people with disability, be it physical or mental, according to the 2011 Census. While people with disabilities battle multiple challenges with regard to people’s attitudes, acceptance and inclusion, lack of access to good quality education and employment keep many from being financially independent. When it comes to disability, India grapples with unemployment and despite the policies to increase sustainable livelihood opportunities for persons with disability, corporates are reluctant to offer jobs to this community.
This is the story of 25-year-old Hitesh Ramchandani, who has cerebral palsy since childhood. As a toddler, Hitesh had trouble even holding a milk bottle. It took him three months to learn to ride a bicycle. He was often left out when the rest of his friends were playing. However, his parents, Ganesh and Bina, had always ensured that their child was never left alone. They encouraged him to take part in sports and physical activities. He started learning swimming and playing tennis when he was nine years old and roller-blading when he was only 11. Today, Hitesh exercises three hours in a day.
Hitesh's father advocated not using wheelchairs and other support at home. Though it was painful for Hitesh initially, it started to yield positive results when his muscles slowly grew stronger gradually. Hitesh has a younger sister, who is now 21. The family lives in a condominium in Singapore where Ganesh is the founder and MD of a coal mining and trading company and Bina is a yoga teacher.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Hitesh said,
"Once, when I was about four, I went to the playground with my domestic help and a group of boys didn't want to play with me. They were scared because they thought I had some disease. I walked differently, like a drunk. My left hand was twisted and my speech was bad. I went home crying and my parents consoled me. They encouraged me to go out and play. They were not embarrassed by my condition."
Hitesh is now pursuing a foundation degree in sports science at the PSB Academy, Singapore. Last year, he represented Singapore in football at the 7th Asian Para Games in Myanmar and the Incheon Asian Para Games. In April this year, he launched his autobiography, Better Than Normal, which is about overcoming the challenges in his life.
While parents believe that using support will make the child more stubborn and lose confidence, Hitesh continues to defy all odds and improve his physical strength however he can. "I wanted my condition to improve, so I took up whatever sport helped me to do so. Cycling improves my balance and flexibility. My stamina has improved through soccer and I gained strength through kickboxing. The thing about my condition is if I don't keep up the momentum, the level drops," he says.