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Anusha Reddy- My experience at the IIS 2016

From the civil rights movement to end racial segregation and discrimination in the United States of America to the non-violent civil disobedience movement – Dandi March (Salt March) for freedom in India, history is replete with examples of how individuals organized themselves into collective movements to bring about social change and undo the injustice inflicted upon them.

India Inclusion Summit (IIS) is one such movement in India working towards meaningful integration of persons with disabilities, the largest minority group in the world. The summit provides a platform, for the otherwise largely fragmented sector of individuals, NGOs, corporates, to connect with each other to fulfill their shared objectives of inclusion.

Unlike other struggles, where the fight is by the direct recipients of prejudice and injustice, the IIS provides a platform for persons from all spheres – public and private, able-bodied persons and persons with disabilities, all united in their commitment to make India inclusive and accessible.

India Inclusion Summit

The two-day summit in Bengaluru brought together persons from different walks of life to share their experiences of growing up in a world which is just not designed for persons with disabilities. Some of the noteworthy speakers at the summit included: Haben Girma, the first blind deaf lawyer who studied at the Harvard Law School, Thangavelu Mariappan, India’s third-ever gold medalist at the Paralympic Games, Damini Sen, a foot painter, P Vaidyanathan, co-founder of the Ganga Trust, Brent Vaughan, co- founder and CEO of Cognoa, and Felicia Shafiq, Canadian Paralympics National Women’s Sitting Volleyball player.

A key-takeaway from the summit is the need for society to shift its perspective of viewing successful persons with disabilities as “exceptions” or “inspirations”, which subtly reinforces ableism, a form of discrimination which characterizes persons with disabilities as inferior to their able-bodied counterparts, to viewing them as contributing members of society.

India Inclusion Summit Fellowship

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

This year, the summit awarded fellowships to 4 other individuals apart from me, who are working towards meaningful integration of persons with disabilities in India. The one-year fellowship is designed to connect the Fellows with social entrepreneurs, corporates, and incubators working towards building an inclusive India. The vision of the fellowship is to provide a platform for young entrepreneurs and NGO workers who are fighting to create a more inclusive world. True to the core values of the IIS, the fellowships were awarded to a diverse group of individuals tackling some of the toughest problems in India.

The Fellows of 2016 are working on some incredible ventures. Aman, founder of Project Mudra is working to eliminate illiteracy amongst persons with visual disabilities by creating a low cost braille learning device named ‘Annie’. Neha, founder of Planet Abled, is making travel accessible for persons with disabilities in India, a country where not a single public building is completely accessible. Abhinav, founder of Free-Design, is an innovation consultant who empowers persons with disabilities by providing them a platform to become entrepreneurs. Sunil, founder of an NGO named Astha, is working towards promoting sports amongst persons with disabilities with the vision of creating 4 wheelchair tennis Grand Slam players by 2020.

Paving the road to equality one step at a time

While the Constitution of India guarantees equal treatment to all, my personal belief is that equal treatment can only be guaranteed when persons with disabilities are no longer viewed as objects of charity, when our hiring policies for persons with disabilities are not merely to check a box but when the economic and social benefits of inclusive hiring are acknowledged, when we live in a world where there are no separate schools for persons with disabilities but when we have mainstream schools to cater to the needs of every child, and when we no longer need to conduct a summit like the IIS to remind us to celebrate diversity and inclusion every day!

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Anusha Reddy is an India Inclusion Fellow 2016. She is an Associate Director at IDIA Charitable Trust. IDIA works towards making the legal eco-system inclusive in India. IDIA trains and mentors underprivileged students including students with disabilities to gain admission at the top law schools in India. IDIA is also working towards building India’s first platform of accessible legal texts for persons with disabilities. You can contact her at anusha@idialaw.com.

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