Jayshree Raveendran, founder of the Ability Foundation, speaks up for the rights of the disabled and works for an inclusive society
The centre of attraction in a noisy lobby of Hotel Geeth in the city is a vivacious woman deep in conversation with 10 people at the same time. With a smile and a few words of encouragement, she, Jayshree Raveendran, was bidding adieu to most of them. At times, her nimble fingers spoke rapidly in reply to questions posed by equally agile fingers.
“We want our rights and empathy, not sympathy,” says Jayshree, member of the National Committee for the Drafting of the Persons with Disability Act 2011, and founder of the Chennai-based Ability Foundation. She was speaking on the sidelines of the discussions on the bill held in the city. The country-wide consultations on the bill will result in a draft in April, which includes the suggestions that come up during the hearings.
Jayshree says she is optimistic about the proposed bill providing a “level playing field” to the differently-abled. “The Person with Disabilities Act, 1995, could not satisfy the aspirations of the disabled and many of its recommendations were not implemented. Once the bill comes into effect, the disabled will be able to ask for their rights for an accessible environment. We are asking for equal opportunities, access to education, employment, recreation and transportation; for our rightful space in society,” says Jayshree.
The hearing-challenged Jayshree has proved that the word disabled means differently abled. “I have worked, danced, performed, travelled… I have a wonderful family who have backed me to the hilt,” says this native of Palakkad who is now settled in Chennai. In 1995, she walked out of the comforts of a 9-to-5 job to establish Ability Foundation, an advocacy group that is at the forefront of efforts to change the mindset of government, corporates and society, toward the disabled.
Realising that it was lack of communication and networking that isolated many able disabled persons from work places and public spaces, the Foundation launched several initiatives to break the barriers.
“There are various wings in the organisation that is working on several levels for an inclusive society. We have a publishing and radio wing, we hold job fairs (EmployABILITY), conduct training programmes for the disabled, hold film festivals, bring out a magazine (Success & ABILITY), and so on.
Our magazine does not talk of rehab. We talk of life, love, laughter and living,” she adds.
The training programmes for the visually-impaired and the hearing-impaired open doors to employment and financial security. The visually-challenged are taught computer skills with the help of a programme called Jaws. Each movement of the cursor and key is read out aloud by the computer.
The Foundation’s placement cell works with potential employers and the trainees. “We bridge the divide between the abled and the differently-abled,” she adds.
She feels initially some kind of reservation would go a long way in securing jobs for the disabled. “But we cannot legislate attitudes. We want an environment that treats us on a par with mainstream society. My vision is to see people work and live hand-in-hand with the disabled,” she concludes.
In association with CavinKare, the Foundation has instituted two kinds of awards. The award for eminent is given to a disabled person who has not only triumphed over his/disability but has served society and showed a commitment to people. The Master Awards honours those who have not let their handicap hamper their quest for excellence in their chosen field.
AbilityFest – India International Disability Film Festival features films of, by, and about people with disabilities and it is held in a regular theatre. The audio-described films ensure that even the visually-challenged are able to enjoy the pauses and the visual scenes in the film while captions make it accessible for the hearing-impaired.