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“Stay positive to beat all odds” - My Take by Jomy John Joseph, disability rights activist

In My Take this week, we have 33-year-old Jomy John Joseph, a disability rights activist from Kerala who has spearheaded many crucial projects for people with disabilities in the state.

I was just like any normal kid, living my life to the fullest with my family in the United Arab Emirates. When I was in class six, I was diagnosed with a spinal cord curvature. Doctors told me that I had to undergo regular exercises and physiotherapy sessions and I would be fine. But when I was in class nine, things changed.

My spinal cord problem had become worse and surgery was the only option. That is how I came back to India with my family. However, the surgery was a failure, the injury worse. I was bedridden and vividly remember the days I had to spend at various hospitals.

When I knew that my spinal cord was damaged and life would change, I was disheartened. But I did not want to stop thinking positively. So, I gathered all the broken pieces and decided to start anew. I had immense support from my family, friends and relatives. I stayed positive throughout. I also made sure to look around for inspiring stories. I realised that there are people who go through worse problems but still manages to smile through it all. Those kind of people are my inspiration

New beginnings

I was at Pathanamthitta, a small town in Kerala right after surgery because my close relatives were there to help me. I later moved to Malappuram where we are settled now.

At 16, I started using a wheelchair but a spinal cord injury affected my studies. I could not go to school like before and I continued with my studies through home tuitions. I completed class 12 and did B.Com and chartered accountancy interim. Last week, I received an award from the Kerala Finance Minister Issac Thomas for being the batch topper among the trainees in the state tax officers in their second batch.

When I was in college, WhatsApp and social media was gathering relevance. I became part of many groups that worked for empowering people with disabilities, especially spinal cord injuries. It was a great opportunity as I could meet like-minded people from the disabled community.

Mobilising the community

The first online group that I was involved in was called Spinal Kerala where I came across many renowned people from the disabled community who are wheelchair users. We used to discuss spinal cord injuries and share problems. I also became an integral part of a rehabilitation project for the Nilambur Municipality where we lent a helping hand to many wheelchair users. This project instilled a lot of confidence in me to move ahead and do more for the disabled community. The Snehatheeram Project is indeed one of the most successful projects that I have been part of.

Gradually, I started meeting more people and attended disability-related events. I became an integral part of the community and that is how I stepped into fighting for disability rights.

We started the All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Foundation (AKWRF) a couple of years back. A few of us who are wheelchair users decided to get together and speak up for rights of our community. We sent our petitions to all District Collectorates across Kerala. On International World Disability Day in 2016, the AKWRF was formally launched.

Currently, I am working as a state tax officer with the GST Department in Kozhikode. Before that, I used to work with the company Accenture in Bengaluru.

I would love to be more active in disability rights activism. But due to heavy work load and time constraints, I am not able to fully get involved. But I make sure that I do all that I can for development of the community.

Gaming, travelling and spending time with friends are my other activities when I'am not working. My biggest support system are my parents and sister who understands me and stays with me always.

There is nothing that you cannot achieve. In today's world, there are many opportunities because technology has progressed a lot. There are also many reservations for people from disabled community, so make the maximum use of it. Stay positive and beat all odds.

ALSO READ: "My blade are my wings to fly"- My Take by Sajesh Krishnan, Kerala's first blade runner

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