Meet Anita Sharma, the woman who is helping persons with disabilities learn to drive
Anita Sharma was only six months old when she became paralysed from the waist below. After nine surgeries, she could finally walk with the support of crutches and callipers.
Hailing from Jaipur, Anita now holds a PhD from IIM Indore in Disability and Entrepreneurship. Being a survivor of polio, she knew that driving was one of the few things persons with disabilities (PwD) couldn’t perform seamlessly. She started driving a retrofitted car, with accelerators and brake on top instead of being placed down below.
For other people, seeing Anita driving was surprising as they never thought it to be possible. She was also approached by a couple of her friends with disabilities who wanted to learn her ways.
This was the beginning of ‘On My Own’. Anita started taking sessions for people and saw how easy it became for them to move anywhere they want, be it for daily commute or a grocery run. The impact was clear, reports Tribune India.
Speaking to She The People, Anita said,
I looked for driving schools for people with disabilities in India. I phoned more than 2,000 schools and found that none of them offered sessions to people with reduced mobility because they haven’t had any retrofitted cars (i.e. modified cars with hand control) on which driving sessions for people with reduced mobility was possible.
Moreover, a driving school requires a special licence to teach driving to PwD, but none of the schools Anita called had one.
Deciding that this void needs to be filled, Anita started On My Own in Amritsar, Punjab in May 2017. It’s a driving school for people with reduced mobility, and has two retrofitted cars.
Anita felt that the void needs to be filled and in May 2017, she started On My Own in Amritsar, Punjab. It’s a driving school for people with reduced mobility and has two retrofitted cars.
First, she faced a tough time convincing PwD and their families to allow them to learn driving. Having no intention to make her initiative a charitable one, Anita charged a nominal fee for the sessions. She uses a portion of the fees to donate wheelchairs for the needy, and distributes them during International Disability Day, and on similar occassions.
Explaining further to YourStory, she said,
“People with disability often feel less confident and it becomes difficult to help them become independent. Confidence is required to accept the changes in the body. For this, I also help them be mentally strong about the physical changes in their lifestyle.”
Besides driving lessons, there are regular coffee conversations with PwD. She also helps them get a driving licence, and customised cars.
So far, Anita has conducted two workshops, and has trained 16 people, who now hold a driving licence. She prefers to train one person at a time, as every individual has a different disability, and is teaching her 17th student at present.
Talking about creating public awareness, she said,
I had collaborated with one local NGO in Amritsar and we are organising an awareness campaign for PwD, focussing on two/four-wheeler driving, using public transport, driving licence, fuel concession, etc. I keep on sharing positive stories of disabled drivers on On My Own’s Facebook page to motivate others.
In future, Anita wants to make the lives of wheelchair users easier by designing a car on which wheelchairs can directly enter.