#DisabilityInfluencers – Pratishtha Deveshwar uses Twitter as a platform to slam notions about disability
In our January campaign #DisabilityInfluencers we profile Lady Sriram College student Pratishtha Deveshwar who discovered the power of social media when she posted a video on Twitter about the hurdles in boarding an airline as a wheelchair user. The instantaneous response led her to discover the incredible power of social media to bring about a change and build larger connections.
Be it as a speaker at public events, hanging with friends at a restaurant or posing by the seaside, Pratishtha Deveshwar is a familiar presence on social media. This student of Lady Sriram College (LSR), New Delhi makes no effort to hide the fact that she is a wheelchair user in pictures. No extreme close ups for her. Pratishtha’s disability is a part of who she is, and she is not afraid to show it.
Pratishtha was disabled 8 years ago
A car accident eight years ago left Pratishtha with a spinal cord injury. Getting used to life in a wheelchair in small town Punjab was tough and Pratishtha wanted to talk about the issues a disabled person in India has to battle.
I took to social media at first because I was frustrated about the accessibility issues I was facing. I was tired of talking to my immediate circle. Through social media I found the chance to educate the larger world. There was no other way available to share the challenges I was facing as a disabled person. – Pratishtha Deveshwar, College student
Pratishtha realised the power of social media when called out Jet Airways on Twitter over its lack of facilities for passengers on wheelchairs while boarding. “The airline contacted me immediately with an apology. They were ready to make amends”, she recalls. “Social media has that impact because no one wants their image tarnished in public”.
Emerging young voice on disability-related issues
Be it the need for tough road safety laws or putting Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the mat for the larger indifference shown by politicians towards disabled people, Pratishtha is forthright in her views. Young, pretty and engaging, she shows great potential as a voice on disability-related matters. One of the qualities that most attracted disability and gender rights activist Nidhi Goyal. Nidhi is the founder of Mumbai-based NGO Rising Flame, which has launched I Can Lead, a first of its kind national leadership programme for disabled women. Pratishtha is among the six fellow to be awarded the fellowship.
“We live within a highly discriminated environment, where we are considered incapable, asexual, and are dehumanised”, says Nidhi. “Due to lack of support, families and society not investing time, effort, or other resources in their development and growth, women with disabilities are often functionally excluded from building an independent and productive future for themselves and for others”.
Pratishtha is clear about the role she wants to play and that is to get people with disabilities out of the corners of rooms. “Disabled people have been silenced far too long. They have to find their voices, and, in this scenario, it is important for me to speak up. The spotlight will be on me if I am on a raised platform, not when I am in a corner in a room. People have to see me as pretty and confident despite being on a wheelchair. Somewhere, a lot of stereotypes will be broken this way”.
Open, forthright & honest
She is not one to shy away from issues either. Among the causes closest to her heart is the sexual and reproductive rights of disabled men and women. “This gets rarely talked about in India and I got some great insights about this at a forum in China. There is also a need to make the government aware about compensating disability-related costs. The government can and should do more to bridge the gap and provide ease of living”.
All this, Pratishtha is clear, will be done, visible and open to the world. “When I put up pictures of myself in a sari, wearing lipstick and going somewhere, people comment saying you look so great and it’s so good to see you going out. Things like this does change mindsets towards disability. People will not think of us as bechaara. When I actively talk about issues and write about the challenges that I and other disabled people go through every day, there is a change in perspective at the deeper level.”