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Disabled entrepreneurs in Kerala raise concerns, demand inclusion & support

There are many persons with disabilities in Kerala who run businesses from home. They are asking the state government for help as they say their products find few takers in the market.

Kerala alone has over 5,000 people with various types of disabilities who earn a livelihood from home making paper pens, umbrellas and other products. They have been trained by experts in making these products and aim to earn an independent living from their homes. Their challenge is that they are unable to sell these products

Many of these entrepreneurs rely on social media to market their products but they find the going tough. They say that the government must step in and help them find a larger market. The products they make are of high quality and priced low but still there are not too many takers.

Take the case of Sindhu Sudevan from Thiruvananthapuram. She makes paper pens and umbrellas for a living. She believes that the stigma attached to people with disabilities plays a large part in defining attitudes towards their businesses.

Most of us, are bedridden and make these products so that we can become self-reliant and independent. We love the products that we make and put in a lot of effort. In spite of that, we do not have many takers. Unlike big companies, we do not have the funds to advertise. Pens that are sold for Rs 10 in the market are sold at Rs 7 by us. But people keep telling us that they cannot buy it and ask for them at cheaper rates. -Sindhu Sudevan, Entrepreneur

Recently, Sindhu got a bulk order from a medical college at Thiruvananthapuram to make over 5,000 pens with exclusive stickers and names. Such orders are rare and not enough to sustain her. Umbrellas that are sold for Rs 350 at the market are sold for just Rs 150 by wheelchair users. This good quality stuff is made with pure love and lots of hard work.

"We do not have any help from government and other officials. We have approached ministers and MLAs. But they hear us only during election campaigns. Unless society understands and helps us, we won't be able to run our ventures successfully. We need respect and support, says Sindhu.

Since monsoons are starting soon, many disabled entrepreneurs are busy making umbrellas. Many of them get bulk orders from schools, colleges and other institutions which are then couriered to various cities.

Surendra Kumar, a wheelchair user from Thiruvananthapuram, sells his umbrellas through WhatsApp. "We have people who help us to reach our products to others. It is impossible for me to independently sell my products without any support. I have absolutely no contact with the outside world or no funds to advertise my products, he says.

Not everyone has a hard time. Vasunni Pattazhi for instance has it easier as he works in a group of over 30 members. Every Tuesday, they get together and make washing powders, phenyls, umbrellas and paper pens.

"If I tried to sell my products independently, it would have been a struggle. I know many people who do this individually. Unless they have good contacts, it is quite impossible to sell your products in the market, says Pattazhi.

With government support these entrepreneurs hope to reach wider audiences and market their products better. This is important so making a living is not such a struggle.

If you are interested in buying products made by wheelchair users, you can contact Surendra Kumar at 944666313 or Vasunni Pattazhi at 9562757741.

ALSO READ: Umbrella By Differently Abled empowers people with spinal cord injuries

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