Building an Early Foundation:
I grew up absurdly lonely, a product of cerebral palsy, 4 surgeries, 70 per cent movement restriction, and two incredible parents – who never gave up on me even when they could. Growing up, I looked different, talked differently, walked differently and because of my condition – I was judged, mocked, laughed at, and I didn’t have a lot of people I could call friends. That’s where my obsession with people, relationships, and what drove human beings, began. I spent many months in the hospital – and with death looming over my head every time I entered the operating table, I found comfort in the hospital staff and other patients around me and their company. Social interaction was limited, I had to work hard to prove myself and become “normal”.
I eventually started to understand why people do what they do, what matters to them when they’re inches away from death, and why, in the end, we’re all just striving to achieve our own individual definitions of “normal”. From there, honestly, PR was a natural transition. I define PR as dealing with the crucial dynamics of deeper connectivity with people across all sections of society. That’s what I did then -- surrounded by people fighting death, struggling to outrun my loneliness, and isolation- that’s what I do now. I understand human beings behind a brand, create narratives, and then use my network to help them share why they do what they do, their struggle to find their definition of “normal”, and how they’re striving to make this world a better place through this struggle -- their business, start-up, organization, and non-profit.
Beyond the Barricades:
It’s funny, but I did sit for jobs. But, sadly, during the interviews, people cared less about how good I was at the job, the ideas I had, or my qualifications. From the moment they laid eyes on me, their perception of me was already created, even before I could say a single word. It’s not entirely their fault either; the corporate world needs more inclusion and role models to look up to with respect towards the differently-abled community. That’s when I decided to open my own public relations company. The idea was, I had to prove that I could do what anyone else could do, and my condition wasn’t a disability -- so that someone else out there, facing the same, could hold on to hope. That they could do what I do, today, tomorrow, and just because you don’t fit into people’s definition of normal, doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job or any less than someone else society would consider “normal”. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve taken.
Disability and Inclusion in the Workplace:
The corporate world still needs more inclusion and role models to look up to with respect to the differently-abled community. Most of us do not fit into people’s definition of normal and the evolution of disability and inclusion narrates this story, from ignorance to now; gradual, better understanding.
Taking from personal past experience, I was rejected from 6 jobs, back in 2016. They told me for a job in marketing you need to travel and interact with clients. It took a global pandemic for people to realize that marketing can be done from behind the screens.
The most significant problems that disabled people face are always accessibility and design. Job roles need to be tailored to accommodate persons with disabilities. There are 21 types of people with disabilities according to the RPWD Act 2016. Everyone has something to bring to the table. The key here is to focus on the strengths of people.
A lot is yet to be done in this segment. The corporate world is surely growing sensitive to differences. It is now even easier to do that with technology at play. Hybrid and flexible work models can be a blessing.
The Entrepreneurial Journey:
I am an advisor to and a member of several esteemed organisations in various capacities such as Rotary International, Newspapers Association of India (NAI), Public Relations Society of India (PRSI), International Human Rights Organisation (IHRO), and Rotary Means Business (RMB), among many others. My life has taught me that it is very important to give back to the community. When you help someone, it always finds its way back to you. Besides, these connections are necessary to engage in offline networking – which is a fundamental part of growing one’s business. Offline networking platforms can provide opportunities to form business connections that can help in the furtherance of one’s business. This helps grow the business, and also allows you to give back to the community at large. That’s also why I’m the founder of the Indian Disabled Entrepreneurship Forum, a not-for-profit to further the cause of entrepreneurship in the disability sector – a cause close to my heart.
Sources of Powerful Lessons:
When I was about to finally start my schooling, my mother, who was once a successful lawyer, quit her job and single-handedly decided to brave every odd coming her way to ensure my schooling and post-schooling education in the institutions for normal children. She endured a lot of objection and backlash from the institutions and people around her. They had suggested putting me in special institutions and being done with it.
People even saw my education as a bad investment but my mother’s extraordinary grit and resolve had endowed me with all the help required to fortify me emotionally and instil in me the confidence that would enable me to make a difference in the world.
Along the way I’ve realized that I was never broken or needed fixing, whatever my physical abilities are but my mental abilities were always on par with my peers, I was never in need of anyone’s pity or sympathy.
It has always been about acceptance and inclusion. I am disabled and that's not a bad thing. I found acceptance through my parents. And so, they are the best mentors anyone can have. Support truly begins at home!