Up close with Ashwini Angadi, who arrived in the city on Monday, after being honoured by the UN in New York.
She walks into the room quietly and with measured grace. Her parents are elated with joy and pride that their daughter suddenly seems to be the toast of the town, with every newspaper and television channel clamoring to get her interview.
After all, Ashwini Angadi, an outspoken 24-year-old with a visual impairment has only just arrived from New York, having received the Youth Courage Award for Education by the United Nations at its Youth Take Over event.
Ashwini is as unassuming and welcoming as the small house she shares with her family. Though it was her efforts with Cheshire Disability Trust, where she spearheaded several programmes to help the disabled, that earned her the UN’s recognisition, her own journey, starting from her childhood, is just as inspiring.
The childhood years
Angadi was born in a village near Bellari district with visual impairment. Her father, who was an autorickshaw driver, decided to relocate the family to Bangalore, seeking better employment opportunities.
“My parents enrolled me in Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind where I studied in residential school for 11 years and my life was idyllic because I was among others who were just like me and I was in my own world,” she explains.
Start of the crusade
Angadi’s real problems began when she had to acclimatise to the outside world when she started attending college at NMRKV.
“I enrolled in NMKRV for pre-university and I would say that adjusting to regular college was frustrating because my classmates and teachers were not used to someone like me and I was not used to them. So, I started addressing my classmates during assemblies and educated them about my life and made some great friends in the process,” she says.
However, she was confronted by a host of other challenges like not having braille study material and had to rely exclusively on the notes that she took down during lectures to get through examinations. It was more of the same story during graduation years, she adds.
Eschewing a cushy IT job for social work after graduation, Angadi was offered a job in the IT sector but fate intervened in the form of Mahesh Chandrasekar, part of Leonard Cheshire NGO, who contacted her to take part in a conference in Switzerland.
But Angadi was upset that she could not personally attend the conference as she did not get her passport. Nevertheless, Chandrasekar got her to attend the programme through teleconferencing and also put her on the job of interviewing people with disabilities to prepare a report.
“When I spoke to all those people, I knew that I had to do my own part in helping them because I knew I could empower them,” she says. And it was thus she came to work for Young Voices, a part of Leonard Cheshire which she was already a member of.
Angadi fights for the rights of disabled through this group, using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a charter.”We raise our voices to the government and we solve issues in India,” she states plainly.
Ashwini’s relentless efforts have seen her visit various colleges and sensitise students on issues and challenges faced by people living with disability. She has also organised several health checkups.
“I see the world as a place that is somewhat helpful, but in five years, I see a world where people with disabilities seamlessly integrate into the society. A world where the government just does not announce programmes and policies for the heck of it but actually implement them. I don’t want us to be treated with sympathy and I want every girl who is disabled to be educated,” says Ashwini.
Make the infrastructure better for the disabled, get screen readers in laptops and computers in schools and colleges so that all children have access to the same material and stop denying basic amenities like debit cards to people living with disability. “People who aren’t disabled, constantly lose their debit cards. Yet, if they can have them, why can’t we!” she says.