[International Day of People with Disability] From the sporting arena to the corporate boardroom, these disabled people are conquering the impossible
December 3 is observed as the International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) internationally. This UN sanctioned day aims to increase public awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people with disabilities and celebrate their achievements and contributions.
People with disabilities have conquered mountains, climbed the corporate ladder, shone on sporting arenas, built businesses, and are championing for rights and access for all.
Here are a few women whose achievements and contributions are awe-inspiring and thought-provoking.
The 48-year-old, paralysed from the chest down, rides bikes, is an athlete, swimmer and also an Arjuna awardee. She holds 54 national golds, 13 international ones including , three world championships titles, one silver medal, with at least a top five spot in all. Competing alongside the able-bodied, at the Commonwealth Games, she became an icon of para-sports. At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, she won the silver in shot put F53 category. She created four Limca World Adventure records when she swam against the current on the Yamuna. She has also taken part in the Himalayan race and the Desert Storm, two of the most treacherous routes with the Himalayan Motorsports Association (H.M.A.) and Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (F.M.S.C.I.), where she biked 1,700 km in sub-zero temperatures in a span of eight days at an altitude of 18,000 feet.
Gunavathy Chandrasekharan was just one-and-a-half-years old when she was stricken by polio. She lost most of the movement in her legs, and today, cannot move more than 20 feet without anyone’s help. While the disability may have affected her physically, Gunavathy’s determination and innate confidence shone through. Her enterprise, Guna’s Quilling, which she founded in 2013, showcases the finest products, handcrafted by her along with four other women, at exhibitions throughout India and earns around Rs 80,000 at a single stall. Gunavathy has won District and State Awards in the Art & Craft Category. She also visits schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu to motivate students to work hard towards what they are passionate about.
Devika Malik was born premature with acute neonatal jaundice and hemiplegia, and was paralysed on one side of the body. Her disability did not stop her from becoming an international para-athlete. In five years, she won eight national and three international medals in para-athletics. Devika co-founded the Wheeling Happiness Foundation in 2014 to support and enable people with disability in sports. It provides access to sports equipment, and helps people with disabilities overcome challenges, including emotional, social, and financial problems. For her efforts, Devika received recognition from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and was awarded the Queen’s Young Leader Award by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London in 2015.
Sminu Jindal has broken the glass ceiling as one of the first women to enter the steel, oil, and gas sector, and taken on every challenge that came her way to take Jindal SAW Limited to greater heights. More importantly, she has championed and campaigned for improved accessibility and in 2000, founded ‘Svayam’ - an initiative of the S .J Charitable Trust to make India accessible for people with reduced mobility. Bound to a wheelchair since she was only 11 years old, Sminu has not let anything come in the way of her dreams. At 19, she joined Jindal SAW Limited as a management trainee in one of its loss-making factories and today, she is at the helm of Jindal SAW, which is a part of the $18 billion Jindal Group of Industries.
Manasi Joshi, 22 was climbing up the corporate ladder as a software engineer when she met with an accident. It left her with a crushed left leg, broken arms, and numerous other injuries. Lack of apathy shown by passersby in helping her and delay in getting medical treatment led to her leg being amputated. She was fitted with a microprocessor-based prosthetic. In 2012, she participated in an inter-company badminton tournament that she had earlier won, and winning a gold again brought back her confidence. From 2012 to 2014, she trained in badminton and scuba-diving and turned pro. After that there was no turning back.
She won the silver medal in mixed doubles in the Para-Badminton World Championships in 2015, the bronze in the para-badminton Asian Championships (women’s singles and women’s doubles) in 2016, the bronze in the women's singles para-badminton world championships in 2017 and the bronze in the women’s singles at the Thailand para-badminton International in 2018.
Arunima Sinha comes from a small district 200 kilometres outside of Lucknow called Ambedkarnagar. In 2011, she was on a train travelling to Delhi to get an error fixed in her new job at CSIF. It was on this journey that she met with an unfortunate accident; she was thrown off the moving train by thugs for refusing to hand over the gold chain she was wearing. She lost her left leg when the a train went over it. Refusing to let her disability stop her, she decided to achieve new heights. This former national level volleyball player climbed Mount Everest in 2013, becoming the world’s first female amputee, and the first Indian amputee, to achieve this feat. She was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.
Nidhi Goyal was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disorder at 15 which came as a big blow to her dream of becoming an artist. Fifteen years down the line, she is a blind activist working for gender justice and the rights of the disabled. A fellow activist suggested she try comedy. Her first comedy set took six months to come about but she was a natural as she has used comedy as a medium to express her experiences since childhood. The set became an instant success and she became India’s first blind comedian. She uses humour to explain the myths and assumptions surrounding disability and just how far they are from the truth.
Preethi Srinivasan, former captain of the under-19 Tamil Nadu women’s cricket team, held the record of being the youngest to have played for a junior state team. She was a national level swimmer as well.
On a college trip to Puducherry, she was playing in the sea when a receding wave drowned her. Later, at the hospital doctors revealed that had suffered a spinal cord injury. The injury left her quadraplegic. This batting powerhouse had to let go of her cricketing ambitions but that didn't stop her from helping others.
Preethi runs a charitable trust in Tamil Nadu called Soulfree, which helps people suffering from severe disabilities. Through this NGO, she wants to uplift the disabled sections of the society by creating awareness about these injuries and potential employment opportunities. The NGO also provides training for various professions such as radio jockey, audio books’ recording artists and so on.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)