Ex-IIM prof Dr Anita Sharma is teaching people with disabilities how to drive
As a person with disability, Dr Anita Sharma knows firsthand how important it is to feel empowered and confident. Through her initiative On My Own, she is determined to teach people with disabilities and the elderly how to drive.
Just six years old when she was paralysed from the waist down in a polio attack, Dr Anita Sharma never allowed disability to come in the way of pursuing her ambitions. Originally from Jaipur, Anita has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Management, Indore (IIM-I) in Disability and Entrepreneurship and started driving a retrofitted vehicle in 2001.
“Driving gave me wings and I could go wherever I wanted”, says Anita. “Before that, I was dependent on my parents and most of their time was spent on me when they could have been doing so many other things”.
At IIM-I, Anita would get plenty of curious stares and questions when she would drive around. She realised how unusual it was for a person with disability to drive. When she moved to Chandigarh, a person with disability known to her friend, approached her for driving lessons. One thing led to another and soon many more disabled people started asking her.
“I went to Amritsar briefly and put a small post in the Voice of Amritsar, a Facebook group, that I have a passion for teaching driving to people with disabilities”, recalls Anita, “and many people reached out”. One of them in particular, a 24-year-old boy named Rahul, who was paralysed from the waist down, touched her. Rahul lived in a town far away from Amritsar which had no Ola or Uber service and was completely dependent. Anita would travel on weekends to teach him. Such experiences led her to launch the initiative On My Own in Amritsar after quitting her job at IIM, Amritsar.
I called over 2,000 driving schools and found that none of them offered driving lessons to people with disabilities. None of them had retrofitted cars or the special driving licenses needed to teach people with disabilities. That led me to start On My Own in 2017, a driving school for people with reduced mobility. – Dr Anita Sharma, Founder, On My Own
Teaching Rahul led Anita to look closely into the specific needs of people with disabilities, like wheelchair users. “I started going to the Chandigarh Spinal Rehabilitation Centre and found that there were many people who had been disabled later in life and were skeptical of driving again. Many people didn’t have the confidence they could drive at all”.
Since then Anita has taught nearly over a 100 people and does consultations with disabled people and their families called Coffee Conversations. She also helps them get a driving license and customised cars. She prefers to train one person at a time as everybody has their own specific needs. “Everyone is unique, and I try and find out where their strength lies”.
“Thanks to Dr Sharma, I have booked my own car now”, says Ajay Kumar, a Chandigarh resident. “Special thanks to her for setting me on the path to independence”. “Just the thought of my daughter driving her own car is liberating”, says Gunjan Pandey.
The training at On My Own covers petrol costs, and the rates vary depending on individual needs. “If I am teaching someone who knew how to drive before they were disabled, then it’s just a question of unlearning what they did before”, points out Anita. For people with spinal cord injuries, the needs vary. “Those with incomplete injuries still have some strength in their legs and can easily drive without modifications. It’s just a question of knowing where their strength lies, that’s all”.
Going ahead, Anita has even more plans, including designing car on which wheelchair users can enter directly.
Contact Dr Anita Sharma for lessons at this website – On My Own