Dissolving barriers, celebrating life - My Take by Ritika Sahni, Founder, NGO Trinayani
Singer, performer, composer, and disability rights activist - Ritika Sahni wears many hats. In My Take this week, Sahni, who is also the founder-trustee of Trinayani, a cross disability advocacy NGO, talks about what led her to look at creating opportunities for persons with disabilities to enable them to lead independent lives.
Nothing in my life is planned, everything happens in a flow. I started off in the disability space as a special educator and inclusive support teacher in Kolkata while pursuing a career in music. Shifted to Mumbai to work as a professional singer performer and also continued my work in the disability space as Head of the Speech and Language Department at the Spastics Society of India.
At some point I realized that while all of us were working to prepare the disabled child for the world, not many were looking at preparing and empowering the society to include them. That was the trigger for Trinayani. I felt that maybe there were non-disabled people who wanted to reach out to, and work among people with disabilities, foster friendships, but did not know how to, or what they could do.
I founded Trinayani in 2006 to focus on changing mindsets and bringing about awareness around disability issues. Since attitudinal change is hard to measure, especially in a world where people want tangibles, I decided to start the Sparsh Foot Spa in 2010 as our livelihood initiative, employing blind therapists trained in Reflexology Massage therapy from the National Association for Blind, Mumbai. Sparsh Foot Spa has been operating for the last six years from our Trinayani office in Kandivili west in Mumbai.
People have many misconceptions about blind people, like can they travel by public transport, etc. I encourage my therapists to speak to our clients and advocate their cause. I have trained them to run the office and manage the spa all by themselves.
Changing attitudes in different ways
At Trinayani we employ various strategies to change attitudes and misconceptions about disability issues. It’s a general notion that people with disabilities are always at the receiving end of sympathy and gratitude. But through our Pehli Baarish Inclusive Music band initiative, our disabled musicians come together to do concerts for free - to light up the lives and give hope to terminal patients, elders with dementia in old age homes, and juvenile convicts in jail. The message going out is that disabled people are also capable of giving back to society. It’s not a one way street.
We also took our first step towards making India more inclusive last May by conceptualising and curating Inclusive Monthly meet ups. These monthly get togethers for people with/without disabilities had a simple motive - to dissolve barriers and celebrate life together. Because despite the crores of persons with disability in India, many remain 'invisible' to many of us for various reasons.
Building larger awareness
As a consultant in Disability Inclusion I have designed sensitization workshops for various stakeholders, including the airline industry, stakeholders in the academic community, and design awareness materials for corporates and government departments who are focussing on Diversity Inclusion.
Tackling disability issues is not a finite mission, not the least in India, where there are various levels of misconceptions the general public lives with. TRINAYANI as an NGO is focused about changing perceptions/stereotypes, altering mindsets, erasing fears, confusion, and ending unfair and unfounded prejudices about the world of people with disabilities.
More importantly, believing in an inter-disability self-advocacy approach, we also involve persons with disabilities actively and directly in all our awareness initiatives. We do whatever it takes to further the cause of Disability Awareness and honour, respect and empower persons with disabilities.