In 2004, Dr. Jitender Aggarwal, a dentist, was robbed of his vision due to macular degeneration.
After losing his sight, he came to realise the hardships differently abled people struggle with, especially in an environment characterized by limited resources and opportunities.
But Jitender was not resigned to his fate. He got trained to use screen readers (software programs that allow visually impaired users to read text displayed on computer screens with a speech synthesizer or braille display) and other softwares that help him with daily tasks. And ever since, there has been no stopping.
“When I lost my central vision, I got the feeling of apathy any disability can fill you with. But despite the loss, having an insight became a lot easier. I started believing that if you have a will nothing can stop you. With my blurred vision, I visualized a platform, where, differently abled individuals could explore and realize their different abilities in real sense.”
The dependency on a caregiver is one of the the biggest traumas people with disabilities experience. And this had to be challenged, believes Dr Aggrawal. He dreamed of a center where people with disabilities can be equipped with the skills to find good jobs. And this is how Sarthak Educational Trust came into being.
What started as one centre in Delhi, is now operational in 21 states with 12 centres throughout India.
While its centre in Delhi is working towards the skill-development and employment of visually impaired candidates in medical transcription, Sarthak has successfully placed 7,250 persons with disabilities in various fields spanning retail, BPOs, IT and hospitality, through all its centers in Chandigarh, Delhi, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Ludhiana, Mumbai and Lucknow.
Skill Development & Sustainable Employment
When one enters the Sarthak Skill Development centre at Andheri in Mumbai, it looks like any other coaching class would– with two classrooms, a small reception area and an equipped computer lab.
This centre trains over 80 students with various disabilities belonging to Below Poverty Line and middle-class families from around Mumbai, without charging them a penny!
A batch of 40 hearing-impaired students looks on the teacher with rapt attention, as her arms move in a practiced fashion of sign language to explain the intricacies of the concepts being taught.
While some of the students travel from as far as Virar and Ulhasnagar, travel poses as a major challenge for the centre to get students, as not many spaces in Mumbai are disable-friendly.
The employability training program lasts for a duration of 90 days or 3 months and is divided into two phases.
Phase one includes providing the students with basic computer skills, learning English, and other soft skills. Based on the level of disability and their interest, the second phase marks job specific training in the areas of retail, BPOs, IT and hospitality.
“If a hearing-impaired person is interested in IT. We’d look to employ them in fields like data entry. Similarly, with visually-impaired people, their voice is their strength. So we enhance their skills with vocal training and modulation and help them work in BPOs,” says Preeti Rathod, Project Manager of the Mumbai centre who has worked with Saarthak for over a year.
The eligibility criteria for this training model is the age range of 18 to 30 years with a minimum qualification of Class 10. The idea is to help PwDs with the willingness to work, post training.
In the last 15 days of training, the students are taught about the do’s and don’t’s at their place of work and thoroughly counselled. With over 300 hiring partners across India, the centres line up interviews for students and once they get selected and start working, a rigorous 6-month follow-up is maintained.
“Many a times, they leave their workplaces due to miscommunication with their managers, travel issues, shift changes or constant leaves. So, we have to bridge the gap and counsel them at every step,” says Preeti
.The focus during the training is also to establish an inclusive environment within the centre where students with different disabilities support and interact with each other on Saturday, which is a day for fun activities.
“We have guest lecturers who are PwD and have carved their own niche. Hamita, a visually impaired guest lecturer, who spoke to our students is a banker at SBI. When they see somebody from within them achieve great heights, they are motivated to push themselves,” says Preeti Rathod.
The other areas of work under Sarthak Educational Trust include:
Sarthak Antakshep Kendra which works to prevent, identify and intervene in the earliest stages of the disability. This is done with a team that consists of gynecologists, pediatricians and health workers.
Working towards inclusive education, The Trust has collaborated with the government to identify schools in West Delhi, where a group of 250 disabled students have been given medical aid and classroom support, to bring them on par with their other classmates. Workshops are held for parents and teachers along with vocational training for the children.
In her final message, Preeti encourages people not to look at a disability as something being amiss in a person. “We are all disabled in some way or the other, so to single someone out because their disability is a lot more visible than ours is unfair. Empathy is a lot more important than sympathy. So treat PwD with respect and dignity because they are just as capable as any of us are.”
Connect with the Sarthak Educational Trust here.