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This woman has helped more than 4,500 disabled people get jobs

Source | CSMonitor

When 15-year-old Hari Raghavan was diagnosed as having retinitis pigmentosa and started losing his vision, his elder sister Shanti Raghavan was working as an information technology professional in the United States.

“We called him over to the US,” she recalls. “Though his eyesight had deteriorated a little, my husband and I took him to see cool touristy places like Niagara Falls.” She had him look at colors in contrasting arrangements so he could see with the little vision he had.

After his eyesight had further deteriorated, Ms. Raghavan called her brother over to the US again. This time, Raghavan and her husband, Dipesh Sutariya, took a perhaps surprising approach: They made him participate in adventure sports.

“We focused on what he could still do, rather than focusing on what he couldn’t. We made him go swimming, rock climbing, kayaking, hot-air ballooning, and snorkeling in the ocean. We ensured that he had a lot of fun!” Raghavan says. At the end of the visit, he told his sister that he felt he could walk on water and do anything he set his mind to.

And that he did. Mr. Raghavan completed his bachelor’s degree in commerce and went on to get an MBA in marketing from Narsee Monjee College, one of the top 10 colleges in India. His sister and Mr. Sutariya assisted him significantly during this period. They found out about screen readers, with which he could study. They helped him learn how to go places on his own by using a white cane and taught him how to cook and access the internet, thus allowing him to do whatever he wanted and needed to.

But even though Raghavan was first in his MBA class and sat through 70 job interviews, he wasn’t offered a position. In India, disability is often considered a curse, and finding employment can be especially challenging.

Finally, however, Raghavan got a job with Tata Finance. Still, his sister and her husband hardly thought they were done.

“On this journey of enabling him, we felt that we needed to do something with the knowledge we had. We were not thinking of anything big at that time, but we felt we could assist those who needed help,” she says.

In 1999, Ms. Raghavan and Sutariya founded EnAble India in Bangalore, offering employability training to disabled people and working closely with companies to obtain jobs for these individuals. From a modest start, the organization has positively affected the lives of more than 130,000 people with various disabilities – with 4,500-plus being placed in 600 companies.

“Shanti Raghavan is an exceptional individual,” says Javed Abidi, a well-known disability rights activist in India, in an email. “Motivated by her brother’s struggles, she got associated with the disability sector and today, she is an enabler and a leader in the disability space in her own right,” adds Mr. Abidi, who is chairperson of Disabled People’s International.

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