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This Chennai shelter only for disabled women is special for many reasons

When it comes to women, safe spaces that offer shelter and independence are rare. When it comes to disabled women, the situation is worse.

Chennai offers one such haven. Located in Kamdar Nagar, Nungambakkam, the Shelter for Homeless Women with Disability offers a safe space for disabled women who are looking for jobs and don't have a place to stay, free of cost.

The founder is Dr Aishwarya Rao, a paediatrician with over 18 years' experience in the public health space. She does not practice anymore and devotes much of her attention to the shelter.

While traveling through Tamil Nadu in the course of my work, I met many disabled women and I realized that their condition away from the city is very different when we compare them to disabled men. Men are always at the forefront and vocal, but not women when it comes to leadership. Access to education for disabled women is poor and many of them get stuck when it comes to pursuing a higher education or a job. Independence was out of the picture. - Dr Aishwarya Rao, Founder, Impact Zone Idealabs

The shelter aims to change that by giving disabled women in small towns and villages an opportunity to come to the city and access jobs and training programs. At the shelter, food and lodging is for free.

Since it opened in 2016, over 125 women have come here. Some are locomotor impaired, while some have mental disabilities. There are also women with multiple disabilities. Among those to have stayed here were three national wheelchair basketball players.

Over 50 women have been placed on various jobs.

For 28-year-old Mary Sajidha, who has a locomotor disability, staying at the shelter has meant the opportunity to study further.

I am from a small village in Kerala and after coming here I decided to do an MBA. This is safe place to stay and they have also helped arranged my travel by auto. - Mary Sajidha, Shelter resident

The team is a small one. "We run a tight ship with four staff members, apart from myself. There is a counsellor on board as well and volunteers who are a major support," says Dr Rao.

Apart from a place to stay, the women at the shelter are given various other opportunities as well, like taking part in sports.

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