Interviewed: Alok Ranjan, Deepti Kansal, Sowmya G L, Vivekananda Nareddula, Prof. Srinivasan Rangan
Edited by: Chinmayee Dawre
December 3, is an internationally observed “day-for-all”, a day dedicated to increasing awareness, acceptance and celebrate achievements of people with disabilities. At IIM Bangalore, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) is a single point-of-contact to provide equal opportunities for growth and learning for our special students.
The institution has put its best foot forward in providing these students with a pedestal to grow. However, it is their strong grit and determination, which makes them get up, get going and become the champions that they are today. They are nothing short of inspiration in this cut-throat competitive life of a B-school, and beyond. Breaking all the traditional barriers, they have defined a journey of their own and continue to excel on this path.
Vivekananda Nareddula is a first-year student who lost both his hands in a huge accident. When we asked Vivekananda about how his life unfolded after this unfortunate event, and the challenges he faced, he confessed that the initial few months were terribly difficult to handle. He was totally dependent on others for very basic activities, and this often broke his heart than the injury itself. He says, “I got many suggestions and advice from many people to go for “Central Government Job”, “Bebionic Artificial Limbs”, “Double hand transplantation” etc., but the questions I got in no way similar to these people such as “How to brush and bath myself”, “How to eat myself”, “What about my entrepreneurship goal?”, “How to use computer and phone” “How to wear clothes myself”, “How to commute daily?”, “What about my favourite Bike riding hobby?” So, I started researching each and every idea, questioning it rigorously until I understood some plan to achieve it. A continuous effort to understand the things that suit me took much time and still counting. I consider every learning in this phase as an achievement to fulfil my desire to be independent. I never called myself a disabled but a differently-abled person.”
Through his optimistic attitude, Vivekananda has learnt to perform daily activities, pursue his hobbies, use his mobile and laptop – from scratch again. He mentions that the Office of Disability Services (ODS) has been especially helpful in understanding his requirements at IIM Bangalore. Also, his batchmates and professors have been supportive, removing the apprehensions that he had before joining IIMB.
For Deepti Kansal, another first-year student at IIM Bangalore, spearheading challenges and courageously facing the curve balls that life throws has at her, always been an important part of her personality. Due to her condition, she is not able to sit at one place for long hours and requires frequent hospital visits. But she has been able to successfully embrace her physical struggles and worked around new ways to carry out the same activities that able-bodied people do in a jiffy. She voices out her predicaments in situations such as inaccessible public spaces, wherever concerned. When asked about what keeps her going strong, she replies, “Someone once told me to never let the knots in your life restrict your movement, both physically and mentally. Struggles are part and parcel of life, and you just must embrace them wholeheartedly and keep moving ahead.” Deepti also cites that the ODS has been extremely considerate in providing comfortable accommodation on the campus. “The emphasis that the Office of Disability Services has put in trying to understand my various needs and giving them due attention is very empowering”, she says. Her advice to people facing similar difficulties is to stay resilient and keep forging ahead. She believes they should not compare themselves with other able-bodied people and treat themselves with kindness always.
Our second-year student Sowmya suffers from hearing loss and thus, communication in nearly every aspect of daily life, from classes to work calls, to hanging out with friends, poses a big challenge for her. However, she has learnt to adapt and improvise on the situation. She mentions that IIMB has been extremely disabled people-friendly by providing a host of options such as live captions during lectures, note-takers, and sometimes even alternative evaluation for certain components such as class participation which helped people like her. She also manages communication through lip-reading, and so far for classes or otherwise she has been able to manage well enough. Her mother has been a great source of strength for her. Sowmya says, “She has always ensured that I never see my disability as the thing that defines me, and that’s something that has always stuck in my mind as far as I can remember. I would like to share the same with others, ‘Never let your disability define you.’ If others have to work hard, you might have to work twice as hard to show the world what you are capable of, but never let your disability pull you down”.
Sowmya says that IIMB has always been her choice for a B-School, due to its friendliness and accessibility for disabled candidates. She has been fortunate to have friends who help her out in taking notes, explaining class concepts and also in preparing for placements. A few words of wisdom that Sowmya likes to impart are, “A lot of people might see you for what you lack rather than your skills, but as long as you don’t define yourself by your disability, you can show the world what you are capable of.” Words to live by, indeed.
Alok, another second-year student, became 100% permanently disabled and has to use a wheel-chair due to a road accident. In the first few years of the accident, Alok faced a lot of complications with eating on his own, sitting for too long, or even using his phone or laptop. He went through a long rehabilitation during which he prepared for CAT, through constant encouragement from his family and friends. When asked about what boosted his confidence through the arduous journey, he replied, “I never believed that someone could support me in the way I needed, to be a fit in the real outside world. This was one of the greatest reasons I did not have confidence in myself. When I got a call from all the top three IIMs-Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta, almost everyone advised me to go to Ahmedabad. But I chose Bangalore because I had heard that the college is very inclusive and supportive when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities. But not even in my wildest dreams, had I thought I would get this much support from the college. I got accessible accommodation, accessible classrooms, scribes for exams, note-takers for lectures. I got every possible help I asked. Even when everything changed to online, I got full support from college”. Alok also mentions that his batchmates have also made him feel welcome by helping him in group projects, studies and other activities, whenever possible. He has always felt like a part of the community due to the co-operation extended by everyone at IIMB, be it batchmates, the professors or the staff. He says that “At IIMB we don’t just say that ‘Help is always given to those who ask for it’, but we live by it.”
Even after facing a rocky road, Vivekananda, Deepti, Sowmya and Alok have displayed great zeal and determination in taking the reigns of their lives in their own hands and following their dreams. Going forward, Vivekananda aspires to become an entrepreneur and establish a sustainable product/services business, Deepti wishes to work in the financial services industry, Sowmya’s long term plan is to join an NGO which focuses on the empowerment of disabled people and contribute her skills and experience to make a difference in their lives, and Alok also wants to work towards the cause of underprivileged people of the country.
Prof. Srinivasan Rangan, Chair of Committee on Diversity and Inclusion at IIM Bangalore, shared his insights on diversity and inclusion. He comments, “In general, diversity means individuals from multi-varied backgrounds come together to achieve a common purpose. In academic institutions, this would mean that we admit students and hire faculty and staff from as many different backgrounds as possible. Diverse student bodies and faculty groups are likely to be eclectic in their thinking and imagination and possibly more innovative. Inclusiveness is about humility and respect. It means that we show respect to all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds. Every student can be the best student that he or she can become. IIM Bangalore is one of the first academic institutes in India to have a clearly articulated disability policy and have an office dedicated to serving persons with disabilities. We received the ‘Emphasis Design Award’ in 2012, for pioneering work for promoting accessibility and universal design such as rails, ramps, lifts and other facilities such as modifications with hostel accommodations wherever needed. We strive to provide an environment where students with disabilities can live as independently as possible.” Link to his talk about the same can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfn187oSbfY
The collective efforts of us a society towards showing inclusion to the persons with disabilities who are disproportionately affected, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 are of utmost importance to ensure that they are not left behind in times of crisis and beyond. Hence, this year UNESCO has declared the theme of the day as: “Building back better: towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities”. To quote Prof. Srinivasan above, “External differences are like toffee wrappers. What is more important is the toffee inside. Being inclusive also means striving to create an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel empowered to attain the highest ideals of perfection”. Hence, we should bear this in mind and on this day pledge to become as empathetic and inclusive as possible, always.
Alok Ranjan, Chinmayee Dawre, and Sowmya G L are students of the PGP 2019-21 batch while Deepti Kansal and Vivekananda Nareddula are students of the PGP 2020-22 batch. Prof. Srinivasan Rangan is Associate Professor, Finance & Accounting Area, Chair, Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and Chair, N.S. Ramaswamy Pre-doctoral Fellowship (NSR Pre-doc) at IIM Bangalore.