The life of Dr. Jitender Aggarwal, Founder and CEO, Sarthak Educational Trust, is an inspiration to strive and succeed in a world where persons with disabilities (PwDs) are most vulnerable. By transforming his own disability into a strength, through Sarthak Educational Trust he had dedicatedly worked towards empowering the PwDs with knowledge and skills that can ensure a dignified life and sustainable incomes. Here’s the Skill Story to know more about Sarthak and the upcoming Abilympics.
Please tell us about how started Sarthak and its evolution as an organization dedicated to persons with disabilities
I was a practising dentist, when I lost my central vision, I began to look at how I can contribute to the PwDs. When I found that people with low vision can work on computers, I learnt computer art. From 2007 – 2008, I researched about what people do for people with disabilities. I realised there is no work happening in the economic empowerment of people with disabilities especially in the private sector. Corporates didn’t know how to hire, where to hire there was a lot of anxiety and challenges. So I thought, why not do something in this area? In 2008, we started Sarthak Educational Trust. Initially, we conducted job fairs from Srinagar to Chennai and Ahmedabad to Guwahati. We did about 100 job fairs, sixty thousand people got registered and 3000 got jobs.
In parallel, we also started our advocacy programs for round table conferences where two BPOs hired people with disabilities and shared it with 50 other BPOs. We tried to figure why the remaining 57000 did not get jobs and we found that the current skill set of people with disabilities was not matching with industry requirements.
Then we started skill building programs in 2014, first with Tech Mahindra and then with Capgemini we started 4 centres, later we collaborated with Mahindra financial and many others. Currently we have 18 skill building centres in India. Till date 13000 people have been trained and 80 % of them have been placed.
What has been the impact of Sarthak towards skilling and employability enhancement?
We work with over 1000 people as placement partners and we have many funding partners. We have early intervention centres where we cure children with disabilities by detecting them early on. One of our programs is an education program, when the children go to school, they get access to a resource centre inside a government school. We also have the skill development program. Our employment program is highly structured in such a way that it attracts corporates like Big Basket to hire people with disabilities.
We conduct a scientific study, share a report, conduct sensitising workshop and so on. Our employment team takes care of the employability program and then we have advocacy programs followed by annual national conferences and round table conferences that started in 2008. Right to Disability Act came into force in 2016. This was followed by National Action Plan, accessibility campaigns and later the formation of Sector Skill Council for PwDs. However, assessors were unaware how to assess disabled kids.
We need to spread right information through social media and other channels as it can create awareness and motivate people. Particularly, in India, information can be a game changer since awareness is very low. People should believe that there is no disability, its only in our minds. If we skill a person in 3 months he/she will learn and there is nothing impossible for them, for parents who are struggling with their kids they can come to us and register for competitions, they can enrol in training programs and earn livelihoods.
How did Sarthak come up with Abilympics and can you share the background to these competitions?
Abilympics is an Olympics for disabled people. National Abilympics Association of India (NAAI), was started by Roma Tully in 2001 and till 2016 she was successfully running it then she became unwell and approached us to take over. It was a struggling organisation but we overcame the challenges, last year we conducted the regional event around 450 people participated in different trades, out of which 50 were selected for nationals and went to Aerocity. It was a combined event where disabled and non-disabled participated out of 50, 10 were selected for the international level. In November few of them visited World skills Asia also.
This year also we are organising the regional event in 10 trades like designing, stitching, tailoring, beauty and wellness, jewellery etc., at Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi.
When the PwDs get jobs, how does the sensitization happen with others?
For instance, if Flipkart wants to hire people with disabilities our team will visit Flipkart, they will check all profiles available and see where people can work with physical disabilities, visual impairment or hearing impairment. We share the report with the HR. First we start with physical disability, they will choose profiles suitable for them and before placement they do sensitization and tell them they don’t need charity but just some workplace solutions like a ramp or an accessible washroom etc. The output they produce is more than others without disabilities. We have a structured sensitization workshop of 1-2 hours duration for different management levels like senior management, middle management and lower management.
How do competitions like Abilympics help in furthering awareness and acceptance of PwDs?
Awareness is the key to motivation and success. It took me three years to find out that people with disabilities can work in certain areas. So these competitions help in creating awareness, through media it is creating motivation and happiness for parents. Parents are not aware that they can get trained and employed. Lot of awareness in corporates also is required, many CEOs also are not aware how people can work if they are blind etc. I would like to share a small incident, there was a painter from Chandigarh whose paintings were very good, a minister who was visiting saw it and requested him to give the painting and the boy said he has to pay for it and he paid 4000 dirhams for it. He spread this via social media and in his community that if you paint well you can also earn a livelihood. Some are selling them online also now. People are also becoming entrepreneurs.