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12 People Who Are Innovating To Make The World Disability-Friendly

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To promote universal design and accessibility, the 12th NCPED — Mphasis Universal Design Awards — commemorated on UNESCO’s International Day for Universal Access to Information, announced the 2021 winners of the awards to recognise select companies and individuals for their outstanding contribution and innovation in promoting accessibility and creating a disabled-friendly India.

The awards, initiated in 2010 by the National Centre for Employment of the Disabled People (NCPEDP) with the support of its long-standing partner Mphasis, are one of the most sought-after awards recognizing excellence for disability-friendly innovations and practices. A total of 12 awardees instituted in four categories have been announced across certain categories including a Special Jury Award.

Alongside the Awards ceremony, the event held a fireside chat on the healthcare issues of persons with disabilities between the Guest of Honour Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, Chairman and Executive Director, Narayana Health.

While talking about the issues faced by people with disabilities in terms of accessibility, Dr Shetty said that in India, making a building disabled-friendly is an afterthought. He added that as the country sees more and more senior citizens travelling in wheelchairs, it is important to recognise the issues that they face while travelling.

work person disability
Representative image

He iterated that the healthcare industry is poised to support persons with disabilities with an increase in employment opportunities for them such as support staff who can work from home. “Today working from home is a blessing in disguise for people with disabilities and the healthcare industry is poised to give them that opportunity.” He also highlighted the need for collective efforts and strength to bring universal health coverage to people with disabilities.

Here is a list of inclusive innovations and awardees felicitated for the year 2021.

Category A: Persons with Disabilities

Ankit Rajiv Jindal – Signer AI, a digital sign language translator

A multi-faceted personality, Jindal is committed to the empowerment of persons with disabilities and propagated accessibility and inclusion. He invented Signer AI, a digital sign language translator that converts speech/text input into Indian Sign Language in real time, and also Mera Mitra, a website and a Google Assistant-based chatbot designed to be a one-stop shop for all information on accessibility and disability inclusion. He has also established the NGO Friends for Inclusion for cross-disability.

Prateek Khandelwal – RampMyCity 

After becoming a paraplegic in 2014 due to an accident, Khandelwal became a wheelchair user. After realising the serious issue of inaccessibility in India, he decided to become part of the solution himself. Through his start-up, RampMyCity, Khandelwal is providing simple accessibility solutions to places of public usage enabling more visibility and equal participation of the disabled population.

Payal Kapoor – Rasoi ke Rahasya

As a trained hotel management professional, cooking has always been a passion for Payal. However, owing to an illness at the age of 22, Kapoor lost her eyesight, partial hearing, and became tactile-challenged. She ventured back to the kitchen, and used her training and native genius to devise simple techniques to plan and organise the kitchen space and work safely. Since April 2020, Kapoor has been regularly publishing audio tutorials on her Youtube channel, Rasoi ke Rahasya.

Category B: Working professionals

Paul Gerard D Souza, Touchétech Labs Braille Cell Modules

His company, Touchétech Labs, has been providing Braille Cell Modules to students, researchers and even companies like Thinkerbell Labs. He also developed a tactile drawing tool caller Roulette that enabled the Visually Impaired to draw lines on commonly available photocopying grade paper.

Madhav Ajay Lavakare, TranscribeGlass

In 2017, When Lavakare was in Class 11, his friend, who was hard of hearing, dropped out of school because day-to-day communication with other students was becoming an insurmountable problem. Lavakare tried to understand his problem better and began looking for solutions that could help him. He learned that most deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) individuals use a combination of assistive technology solutions for better communication but they are often unaffordable, inconvenient or inaccessible.

After an intensive five-year research, he came up with TranscribeGlass, an assistive technology device for the deaf, hard of hearing and elderly, fills the void with an affordable, comfortable, accessible, convenient real-time heads-up captioning solution, especially in developing countries.

Dr Hema Parikh, Vadodara, Ummeed Cerebral Palsy Centre

Dr Parikh has contributed to the development of Ummeed Cerebral Palsy Centre that was launched in 2016. While treating pediatric patients, she came across a girl Kinjal, who had Cerebral Palsy (CP). It was during Kinjal’s treatment that the idea of Ummeed Cerebral Palsy Centre came to her mind. The Centre caters to children with CP, autism, intellectual disability, Down syndrome, behavioural disorders, etc., with homoeopathic medicines and other therapies. The Motto of the centre is ‘Reaching to the Unreached.’

Category C: Companies or organisations

Samsara Paediacare (OPC) Private Limited, Boond

Samsara Paediacare (OPC) Pvt Ltd is an assistive technology company that has designed ‘Boond’, a feeder through which cleft babies are fed a drop at a time. Boond ensures that the cleft babies are fed safely from birth until year one through all milestone surgeries, following medical compliances.

Rymo Technologies Private Limited, Portable robotic rehabilitation device

Rymo Technologies Private Limited’s Mobi L support product is a portable robotic rehabilitation device that helps individuals undergoing physiotherapy recover faster by providing personalised training. It occupies only two sq. ft. of floor space and is 10 times more affordable in comparison to other products in the market.

India Signing Hands Private Limited, Broadcasts news, and entertainment in a deaf-friendly accessible format

India Signing Hands broadcasts daily news and entertainment online in deaf-friendly accessible formats including visual images with titles, voice-over and closed captions. Moreover, it has developed ISL courses for parents who have children with hearing disabilities and also with doctors, public service officers’ employers encouraging them to communicate with customers who are deaf.

margarita with a straw disability

Vispala Technologies Private Limited

Through frugal engineering and 3D printed design and manufacturing, Vispala has brought comfortable and lightweight products in an affordable price range with quality, durability, aesthetics and features that are available in many high-priced products. The company aims to build a landmark sustainable social enterprise in the robotics for disabilities space.

NCPEDP- Mphasis Javed Abidi Public Policy Award

Subhash Chandra Vashisth, Centre for Accessibility in Built Environment Foundation

Subhash is a lawyer and a specialist in Accessibility, Universal Design and Diversity Inclusion. He is a certified professional in Accessible Built Environments Level III-Expert (CPABE Level III), the first in India to achieve this credential. He co-founded the Centre for Accessibility in Built Environment Foundation on April 1, 2016. He authored the report Handbook on Barrier-Free Urban Infrastructure, highlighting the lack of accessibility in urban infrastructure and giving out a comparative study of national standards and international best practices.

Special Jury Award

Phonologix Health Solutions Private Limited:

Launched in January 2020 to provide online speech therapy to children with speech, language and communication disorders, Phonologix Health Solutions aims to make speech therapy more accessible and affordable to approximately 20 million children with disorders or delays that affect their speech, language and communication. The sessions are conducted online through the use of technology and automation, irrespective of the beneficiary’s location, hence making it more accessible and convenient.

This year, more than 72 applications were received from across the country and even overseas. and amongst them, the top 12 were chosen as winners. The jury for the prestigious award comprised: Mr Som Mittal, Chairman, NCPEDP; Ms Shilpi Kapoor, Founder, and CEO, Barrier Break; Mr Nipun O S, AVP, and Head- CSR, Mphasis; Mr Pulkit Aggarwal, Investment Director – Assistive Technologies, Social Alpha; and Gaurav Raheja, Head Department of Architecture and Planning, Joint Faculty, Department of Design, IIT- Roorkee.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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