Disability Heroes – Neha Agarwal is opening corporate India’s eyes to the AB-ility in disability
In our series on Disability Heroes, today we profile Neha Agarwal. Just 19 years old when she lost her vision, Neha battled depression and finally dug into her inner reserves of strength to emerge a fighter. That in itself is an incredible story. But what makes her such a hero is her mission to show the world how much blind people are capable of.
At 19, Neha went blind as a result of a drug reaction to a viral fever medication. “Suddenly I found I could not do anything”, recalls Neha. “I could not make out faces, structures or figures. I come from a traditional family and being a girl, this was a really challenging situation to be in”.
She slipped into depression for eight years, until she decided to fight back, and reclaim her life. “I was done listening to comments from friends and family like ‘she is good for nothing’. Instead of encouragement, I was told I was a burden”.
With the help of a doctor, she started picking up the pieces of her life again. She joined a vision rehab center and acquired computer skills alongside. She also underwent counselling and decided to pursue her graduation through distance learning. It was not the world at large she had to contend with but her protective family as well.
“My parents worried about me and wanted good things for me but had no idea how to handle this situation”, she recalls. ‘As I learned more about myself and what I could do, I taught them as well. They were with me throughout and helped me grow”.
Journey towards self motivation
Neha joined the mailing list Access India and through a mentor Payal Kapoor connected with groups like Project Eyeway, a single-stop knowledge resource for visually impaired people. “Pranay Gadodia at Eyeway motivated not just me but also gave me valuable tips on how to persuade my family into allowing me to go out. They have tapes about visually impaired people who live independently, and I would listen to those tapes with my parents and they gradually got convinced”.
The path towards independence led to Bengaluru to Enable India, which trains and counsels disabled people and prepares them to join the mainstream workforce. Neha’s parents were worried about her decision to live in the city for 10 months to undergo training, but Enable India co-founder Shanti Raghavan intervened. “She stepped in and asked my parents to sit in through a class”, recalls Neha. “They stayed with me for 10 days in Bengaluru and were finally convinced”.
Enable India ‘enabled’ Neha in many ways. “There were so many struggles I went through but they have helped me reach where I am. In Bengaluru for instance, I walked a short distance for the first time with a cane after 9-10 years and it was such a great feeling. I was on cloud nine!”
Neha was eventually offered a job by IBM as project coordinator in their Hyderabad office. It was around this time that she decided to dedicate her life to making the world aware of the potential blind people have.
I started off first by going to a rehab centre to share my learnings at the workplace and motivate others. Then I felt that it is also tough to explain to the sighted community our challenges and how we navigate. I want to create awareness and sensitization among sighted people about us. My goal is to create an inclusive society without discrimination, which is a challenge that visually impaired girls face in particular. I want to make people aware that girls are also capable of stepping out and making a place for themselves. – Neha Agarwal, – Neha Agarwal, Project Manager, Deloitte U.S-India
Neha remains committed to spreading that awareness. “Through my work and attitude, I want to show organizations what visually impaired people are capable”, says Neha.
It is this attitude which is among her most inspiring qualities, says Amar Jain, a visually impaired lawyer based in Mumbai.
“Looking at her gives you the motivation to move on with life with the same confidence”, says Jain. “She has delivered excellent services in IBM and now Deloitte. She has also done creative projects within organizations to create awareness about disability and inclusion. She does Art of Living with huge gatherings, all of which motivates the public to look at disabled people in a positive sense”.
At the workplace, Neha consistently meets benchmarks and has earned huge respect. Sapna Shukla, who works with her in Deloitte U.S.-India says, “She handles six projects and 30 people. As project managers, we are hosting calls and taking updates. Neha has to listen, write and ensure everything is properly noted down. She has handled that aspect very well. She is the kind who does not give up easily”.
People like Neha, believes Jain, will go a long way in shaping perceptions towards people with disabilities. “If we are able to sensitize corporate India and educated mindsets the coming generation will be much more empathetic. There are not many disabled people in such organizations who want to bring about this change”.
Disability Heroes series