How do we know how well we can perform on an abilities index? How strong are we mentally? Does a physical disability mar our chances of winning a competition? Why determination and focus are the key to take responsibility for our own lives? Questions like these often find answers in inspirational stories of people who made it big despite challenges – physical, mental, behavioural. And, converting every challenge into an opportunity requires training in technical and cognitive skills and sharpening our abilities, as a life-long pursuit.
When I met the participants at the National Abilympics competitions, conducted as a part of the 6th National Conference on Disability, organized by Sarthak Educational Trust and National Abilympics Association of India (NAAI), I got to experience how differently-abled we all are! The event was organized in Delhi on 15th and 16th November 2019.
A visually-challenged participant could participate in Flower Arrangement, a speech and hearing impaired could design a piece of exquisite jewellery, a physically challenged youth could design a web page and create beautiful documents and an acid-attack survivor was testing her skills in Beauty and Make-up. I was enriched with their conversations. I was amazed at how many skills and abilities we are blessed with, how few we put into use. And, how multi-sensory abilities are empowering the participants to compete and prove themselves in many skilled tasks.
Cheers to the power of skills and abilities! The drive to excel and outperform oneself is so very intrinsic, it comes from within and we just need to listen to our inner voice. That’s something these participants had in abundance. They were all making a point – pick up a skill or a set of skills and master it. Be it front desk executive in a corporate office, a chef or a waiter in a restaurant, a customer service executive in a QSR or a florist, a web designer, jewellery maker…the list can go on. Nothing can stop us when we take responsibility for our own growth and improvement. All we need is access, mobility and opportunities.
I was fortunate to represent National Skills Network-NSN and share few points regarding the need for sustained advocacy through online and digital media to create awareness and share stories of determination, courage and abilities on a panel “Excellence in Skill and Abilympics” chaired by Mr. Atul Bhatnagar, Former COO, NSDC. My co-panelists included Mr. Merlin Wiedeking, Head of International Business / CEO South Africa & Middle East, Nodwin Gaming, Mr. Anup Srivastava, CEO, ScPwD and Col. Ravi Kharbanda, Technical Consultant,National Skills Development Corporation.
Each time I participate in an event connected with skill-based training, I am overwhelmed with the efforts and initiatives that are aimed at empowering youth with skills that build careers. The 6th National Conference on Disability was a unique one. I understood why Dr Jitender Aggarwal insisted I should attend the event on the days. The learning was most valuable as I gained first-hand experience of listening to several passionate people who are following their dream to make India inclusive with equitable opportunities for all. The fact that we are all differently-abled was proven in many presentations during the 3-day conference with the theme “Voice, Choice and Control – Pathway to Disability Inclusive Development.”
One of the sessions that left a deep imprint on me had speakers who have made it big in their professional lives by turning every physical challenge into an opportunity and their stories were timeless testimonials of human spirit. Incredibly determined and resolute, people like Nupur Jain, Senior Officer Training, GAIL; Rahul Gupta, VP and Head, Financial sponsors coverage Axis Bank; Aarti Kakatkar, VP, Procam International, and Anshul, Player, All India Cricket Association of Physically Challenged narrated how they overcame their disabilities with support from parents, teachers, trainers, with an unwavering motivation to keep growing. Their achievements are also attributed to their willingness to keep learning, skilling and use the latest technologies and gadgets that assist them.
As a country, India is yet to witness large scale movements towards inclusivity, accessibility and ensuring early interventions through advocacy and awareness. Nevertheless, conferences and events like these, reaffirm our commitment and provide a platform to connect the stakeholders and update us about the evolving ecosystem that educates and enlightens people about schemes, initiatives and programs from the government and Non-Profit Organizations. Every single policy level change aimed at bringing the differently-abled closer to the avenues that help them learn, earn and grow needs huge campaigns to create awareness and build connections. Every corporate that is actively engaged in Diversity and Inclusion initiatives is making a positive difference to the emerging ecosystem and dialogue around this theme had many queries from the audience. Apparently, there is a lot to be done, to connect the non-profits with the corporates for sustained partnerships.
The job fair conducted as a part of the conference saw enthusiastic participation from the corporates. And, there were highly thought and action-oriented discussions on enabling employment and controlling attrition. The need for sensitization of all employees in a company is most essential, along with creating favourable infrastructure for the differently-abled to move with ease and perform on the job. Further, the need to provide assistive technologies and make things disabled-friendly – it could be the marking on the stairs or access to the list or a simple ramp or the use of sign-language and Braille – these basics are necessary and it should be mandated for providing equal access.