Contributed by: Arun Nayan Singh
Imagine, you are 19. One day you wake up and realize that you can’t see. And you have no experience around the blind before. However, you decide to go about your life. People tell you that the blind can only make cane furniture or chalk pieces or be a telephone operator. And you think, they might be wrong.
That is the story of Divyanshu Ganatra, the first blind Indian to paraglide solo, a psychologist and the founder of Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF) and Yellow Brick Road. He visited the IIMB campus to deliver a motivational talk, organized by Office of Disability and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Cell. Even before the start of the session, the audience noticed something different. He was operating his laptop and hanging around the room, all by himself.
Divyanshu started the talk with his signature wit, charming everyone in the audience as time went by. He mentioned that he wanted to come to IIMB so that the next generation of leaders under development here gain some perspective about the untapped talent pool comprising people with disabilities. The first story he went into was how he decided he wanted to fly. It took him seven years to find someone who would believe in him, who would be willing to train him to fly solo, just because he is blind. He kept calling people until he found one. After that, it was a matter of merely five days to learn how to fly. He even got a pilot’s license. He learned quite early on that it does not matter what people think since nobody has the power to influence your thoughts.
He explained that it is not a challenge living with disabilities. The primary hurdle is the attitude of the people because they don’t know anyone with disabilities. It is like they are hidden somehow from the population in general. It is the largest invisible minority population in the world. Mostly, it is because of stigma and shame. Added to it is the fact that most of the public institutions and facilities are not designed to be used by persons with disabilities. While it is easier to stay in the US or European nations for persons with disabilities, he wanted to stay here, give something back to the community and take the initiative to make life better for everyone.
When he went to the rehabilitation center, he had a terrible experience because of the living conditions. The councilors told him to follow a “conventional” career path for blind people. However, he had other plans. He was just 19 years old. And IT was the up and coming thing (and he didn’t want to make chalk pieces or cane furniture). He decided to learn how to use computers.
However, this was before the era of mainstream screen readers. Computer centers declined to teach him. So, he relied on his sighted friends and went on to ask them to read the screen for 8 hours a day! He worked for a while in various areas such as internet technology and man-machine interfaces. Eventually, he became interested in the human brain and decided to study it further.
He went back to college, and after quite a hassle, succeeded in getting admission. However, the post-graduation proved to be difficult, since the academic system was not designed to cater to people with disabilities. Later, he realized that the patients liked the fact that he couldn’t see them preserving their anonymity, and granting them the freedom to talk freely. He noticed that most of the times the people coming for a consultation just needed someone who would just listen to them talking. All that we need is empathy towards each other.
The entire problem is, at least partially, caused by the fact that most people have almost no exposure to persons with disabilities. His organization aims to change that. They organize short trips for executives to accompany persons with disabilities, getting to know them, so that they can realize the people with them do not lack talent. One such effort resulted in making around 200 stores so that they are accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, as people grow old, it benefits all of us.
He concluded the talk with one thought. The world would be a much better place with some empathy in all of us. He hoped that the next generation of executives would be more informed and more open to all kinds of people.
Arun is a student of PGP 2018-20 batch at IIM Bangalore and is a member of the Student Media Cell.