Life is beautiful when you are not only happy but make yourself useful to others and this is exactly what a disabled social entrepreneur from Gujarat has been doing for the past 4 years now.
In a conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, the founder of the Antarnaad, Shailesh Sheth says, “Through this initiative, we want to ensure that people with disability are able to do everything that they want to do.”
Shailesh (49), who is a victim of Polio, hails from a small town of Umreth in Gujarat and his family has a traditional business in the town. “When I was 1-year-old, my left foot was deformed due to polio and till date, I had 9 surgeries in that same foot,” he says. But now, he can finally walk without support. “My family has supported me throughout and they never let me feel that I am crippled.”
As per Census 2011, in India, out of the 121 Cr population, about 2.68 Cr persons are ‘disabled‘ which is 2.21% of the total population.
According to the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) website, 62 organizations are listed as disabled friendly in India but the sad part is a 1999 survey on the top 100 Indian companies revealed that only 0.28% of disabled find employment in the private sector and an even lower 0.05% in the multinationals. Further, it mentions that of the approximately 70 million people with disabilities in India, only about 0.1 million have succeeded in getting employment in the industries till now.
This shows that despite The Persons with Disability Act (1995) mandating a 3% reservation in governmental jobs, various NCPEDP incentives and awards, the reality of their underemployment speaks volumes about their condition today.
What is Antarnaad?
Employers are skeptical about hiring people with physical deformity into the mainstream functioning. Therefore, the equal opportunities for development are completely disrupted for specially-abled people.
To help these people live their life with dignity, in 2014 Antarnaad project, which is an initiative by Ahmedabad’s Differently Abled Group, started by Shailesh and his team of physically handicapped people and other young individuals came into being.
With over 250 entrepreneurs now, the organization is a blessing for the people who have faced rejections while looking for jobs because of their physical deformities.
“Antarnaad exists today because few responsible individuals were determined to support differently-abled young entrepreneurs and also their start-ups,” says Sailesh.
The organization also runs Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) under the mission- Swachh Ahmedabad (Clean Ahmedabad) that aims to provide employment to a number of physically-challenged people.
Watch the Swachh Ahmedabad video here –
On asking what does he feel about India being disabled friendly? Shailesh says, “It is extremely important that a differently-abled person has the liberty to live life in their own terms. I believe that people with disability are completely abled and can very well fulfill their dreams. We should help each other grow and equally value each other instead of thinking they are less than normal people.”
“Government is doing their bit and we need to do ours,” says Shailesh. “It is good to see that now many educational institutions and railway stations, metro stations, airports are taking steps to make these places accessible for differently-abled people.”
In 2016, the state government in Gujarat promised to make its beaches more inclusive for disabled people.
Forming a Compassionate Workspace
It is important to care and share, says Shailesh. Apart from Antarnaad, he is also the founder of Network Mango, Zosite, and Ahmedabad Business Pages.
“In this digital world, everybody is focusing on becoming entrepreneurs and have start-ups of their own, but no one is talking about people with disabilities turning entrepreneurs. This bothers me,” he says.
The Antarnaad provides an Entrepreneurship Development Programme for physically-challenged people to improve entrepreneurial skills and provide a better world to live in. The Group is driven to envision for the better tomorrow.
The organization also has a programme called Social Spaces, under which they create social platforms for handicapped people – entrepreneurship, start-ups mentorship, support for fundraising, providing employment and other related activities to cater to their needs and help them become successful entrepreneurs.
“I have seen disabled people successfully overcoming hurdles,” says Shailesh. Therefore, he believes that without feeling sorry for themselves, every disabled person should learn entrepreneurship and create job opportunities for themselves.
Why Hiring Disabled people is Important?
It will be right to say that specially-abled people are a hub of untapped talent. Therefore by employing them, we can definitely create a positive environment.
How? Today particularly in corporate sectors, it is not hard to come across a stressed individual who lacks the motivation to perform good or do well. Therefore, keeping them motivated is extremely crucial. When you hire a disabled person and appreciate them for their work, motivate them, they are bound to go out of their way and perform better. This not only benefits them individually but also creates an optimistic environment, which indirectly helps in the growth of the employees and the organization.
Shailesh says, “We build confidence in them through the advice and guidance, and help them to break their barriers. We provide the skills and knowledge that enable these specially-abled people to lead independent lives and to become socially active in the community.”
“We are speaking with NGOs, individuals, groups, corporate organizations, schools, and colleges to help us establish our mission. We need support and contribution to raise entrepreneurship awareness for people with disabilities,” adds Shailesh.