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Handicrops, India's first company founded by disabled people, set to spread outside Kerala

From colorful paper pens in the Indian tricolor to floor mats in festive colors, the products sold by Kerala's Handicrops Divyanga Impex Limited (HDIL) have acquired quite a name. Few people know of the incredible story behind this public limited company based in Kerala.

Formed with the stated mission of empowering artisans with disabilities, HDIl aims to highlight their creative talents and offer them a platform to showcase their skills and earn a livelihood. The company has eight directors, of whom five are wheelchair users.

The founder of HDIL Lekha Kumar hit upon the idea of starting an enterprise to empower people with disabilities after a chance encounter with disabled people. "I noticed that there were many disabled persons who had products but couldn't market them due to mobility issues. So, I created a Facebook group for them called Handicrops".

I started Handicrops as a Facebook group to promote products made by people with disabilities. We trained 5,000 differently abled people around Kerala. There are about a thousand people making paper pens, paper bags, umbrellas, seed bags. cloth bags, mats etc. We sold 12 lakh paper seed pen in less than two hours. This way people can earn a livelihood sitting at homes. Even their dependants are associated with it. - Lekha Kumar, Founder, Handicrops Divyanga Impex Limited (HDIL)

HDIL also has a brand of nature friendly projects which enables the tribal community in Kerala. "They make cotton bags and varieties of cotton mats and we are also promoting recycled paper note pads and paper straws", says Kumar. In the future there are plans to launch biodegradable sanitary napkins and reusable pad.

Inclusive in every sense

The initiative is inclusive in spirit, as it reaches out to not just people with disabilities but people from economically backward communities. Since it was launched in 2017, it has reached out to 200 people in different districts of Kerala. Over 6,000 people have been trained as well.

Like Thaha from Thiruvananthapuram who suffered a severe spinal injury in a fall. Although his mobility was affected, his resolve was not. Thaha started making umbrellas and electronic items and earns a livelihood. "With my earnings I am able to support my family of three. Thanks to HDIL I have been able to find a market for my goods".

Like Thaha, there are many members of HDIL who make paper pens, LED bulbs, paper bags, umbrellas, handmade soaps, jewellery and handicrafts. They sell directly as well as online. Mustafa Paramban, Managing Director, HDILwho is bedridden due to spinal muscular atrophy, is happy that his gift for making umbrellas has enabled him to become independent. "This has become a permanent source of income for me and I can support my family", he says.

"We have been approached by the governments of Gujarat and Odisha to start a company there", says Kumar. Clearly HDIL's mission to challenge common assumptions about people with disabilities and push boundaries is finding resonance with more people.

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