What does it mean to be special? Dictionary meanings suggest that to be special is to be “better, greater or otherwise different from what is usual”. For individuals with special needs, the term is an indicator of their unconventional lives and needs. Even as modern societies are working to make our surroundings more inclusive of people with disabilities, the community continues to remain in the shadows struggling for access to basic and crucial resources.
It is this lack of accessibility that Special Sources, a new directory of resources for various disabilities, hopes to address.
Special Sources is the brainchild of Chennai residents Rashmi Devaprasath and Advitya Thapa. While Rashmi is an experienced special educator, Advitya has worked extensively in the development sector—the two are childhood friends and the project is a culmination of years of discussion and Rashmi’s special interest in developing an accessible compendium of resources for the community.
Coming from a family of doctors, Rashmi often received patients recommended by her father. In engaging with her patients, she realised that once the diagnosis was complete, most parents of children with special needs had no idea where to go next. Where could they find the right treatment or therapies, how could they get in touch with the right people—these were common questions and Rashmi found herself limited to a few answers.
As she began to keep notes of anything she came across that could help her clients, Rashmi toyed with the possibility of a bigger project. “We starting speaking about the concept for a few years, but began working on this only from last year once Rashmi’s child had grown up,” Advitya says. As the duo began to work on the website (built by Rashmi’s husband), they found that the scope of the project was even wider than they had imagined.
Rashmi says, “We realised that whether it was children with special needs or people with disabilities like being visually impaired or wheel-chair bound, their needs often overlapped. Even aged people may require help in areas that overlap with the needs of disabled individuals. We decided to branch out to other disabilities and address geriartric concerns too.”
Following months of work and meetings, the two launched the Special Sources website this year, in the month of April.
The website, currently in its testing stage, offers more than 150 resources starting from medical enterprises to inclusive recreational activities.
The aim of the website is to give their target audience greater access to every enterprise that might make their lives better or more fulfilling. Hence, information for doctors and speech therapists are found on the website along with references for disabled-friendly travel services and horse riding schools.
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The launch of the website was preceded by extensive meetings undertaken by Rashmi and Advitya with parent communities, organisations and other groups invested in disability studies and action. With the website now being functional, more feedback has begun to arrive from around the country.
According to Advitya, receiving feedback from users has helped the duo in making the website better. He cites an example, “We took some things for granted—for instance, our home page with the search engine. But feedback helped us realise that people didn’t know how to start searching.” Rashmi agrees, and adds that they are heartened by the quality of feedback. “People send us feedback, even screenshots, and they wait for us to correct the mistakes.”
The aim is to make the website a platform for the community to come together. As Rashmi says, “the website is not just for parents or disabled individuals but also those who work in the field.”
Advitya agrees, “We realised that a lot of people are working in the area, but are unable to reach out to the community. They are also bound by limitations of time or might already have too much on their hands. Our aim is to get the community going and help the exchange of ideas better. We also have experts writing for our blog, and want to involve people in tagging and sharing images of spaces that are inclusive of special-needs individuals.”
Before any professional or organisations are listed on the website, the two founders are also particular about verifying the credentials. “We don’t make any special recommendation, but we do verify all the resources though meetings and phone calls,” they say. They also invite volunteers to spread the word and share details of any disabled-friendly initiatives they might know of.
The duo has started with compiling resources in Chennai, but hope to make the resources available around the country.
Image for representation. Source: Wikipedia
All the resources listed on the website are free to access and the co-founders emphasize that social objective comes before monetary gains. Now, both Rashmi and Advitya are more focused on building a formidable list of resources for the website and collaborating with new partners. In time, the duo also hopes to reach out to organisations and develop Special Sources as a one-stop platform for the entire community.
In India having a disabled individual at home can put families under immense pressure for funds and identifying the right resources. Government schemes are few and even those are not always known to people. In such circumstances, a compendium of resources can enable people with special needs, and their family members, to receive the best possible means of accessing a more wholesome life.
Rashmi sums up their mission statement succinctly when she says, “One day, we hope the world to adapt and be more inclusive. Till then, we want them to have convenient access to the resources they need.”