[Edit Notes: Two days ago, the world observed International Day of People With Disability. This year’s theme, was “Break Barriers, Open Doors: For an inclusive society and development for all.” As this week’s DOER, we bring you the story of Raghavendra Satish, who reminds us all that no matter how much large corporations claim to be inclusive, the sad truth is that not many of them know how to work with people with disabilities.]
Raghavendra Satish Peri is 26 years old, visually impaired and currently works with IBM India as an accessibility specialist. He attended 63 interviews before landing the job at the IT firm. He rues the day he started hunting for work, because that was when he discovered that most companies in India, for all the talk of inclusivity, were really not inclusive. His journey to get this stage of his life was not without immense struggle.
When he was 8 years old, Raghavendra was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, a retinal deterioration condition that would steadily render him blind in the years to come. But this didn’t stop him from attempting to be an entrepreneur.
In 2006, he collaborated with two other friends to start a web portal – Digital Challenger – a digital marketing website that provided coaching to companies and websites who wanted to make the most of their business online. The company, however, had to close down in 2009. “Digital Challenger didn’t work because there were mutual differences between us.” says Raghavendra. “It was just an experiment, Digital Challenger, after this I shared the knowledge gained from this with other businesses.” he adds. After yet another attempt at starting a venture of his own did not take off, he decided that he had had enough of entrepreneurship.
His job hunt began thereafter. Over 60 major companies, mostly MNCs, turned him down for either being visually impaired, or for not willing to work at half salary due to his impairment.
“All these companies said you’re visually impaired, so we don’t know whether company policy will allow it. We’ll get back to you. I told them that I can work just as well as anyone else, you hire people who can’t do work half as well as me, speak english terribly, so why not me?” he says.
This was when he realized that there was a lack of awareness about inclusivity and accessibility for disabled people in the country, and wanted to change this mindset. He began by first ensuring that he got a job and was financially stable. He enrolled for classes with Enable India – a charitable institution that helps disabled people find employment by imparting the training in real world scenarios and the skills necessary for it. After picking up all the knowledge he could from the institution, combined with the experience gained from his earlier trials as an entrepreneur, Raghavendra applied for the job at IBM.
An avid marathon runner, Raghavendra has competed in several marathons despite his eye condition. He thanks his running coaches for having helped him run and spend all the negative energy in him which he believed made him an angry person. Recently he completed a 21k marathon in Hyderabad.
“In 2011, I had gone for a run near my house at a park, and fell down, this is when I realised my eyesight had deteriorated even more. So I joined a group, Runners High, a group which helps people with disabilities and visually impaired, run.” He said. The coach of the group, Santosh, helped Raghavendra run with the help of a echolocation method or navigating with the help of sound. The coach would put rocks or stones into a box, and run along with Raghavendra. The sounds from the box, helped him run. In his free time, he also goes trekking with the help of friends.
Soon, he began attending events as a motivational speaker and also giving insight to startups about how to make companies more accessible for disabled people. He attributes his consent to speak at events conducted by startups to his love for the business model. “I like all startups. I like the ecosystem they have created, that they are all people who like to do something.” he says. However, he feels that there are not enough players in the field of inclusive and accessible services. “They don’t know about the other half, they don’t have the understanding or the people to work out a model.” he says.
He uses these events as a platform to network with other startup entrepreneurs and people to reach his bigger goal of making corporate environment and the country more accessible. Currently, he is working a private project in his free time – the development of a website called ‘Magic Jinka’.
Magic Jinka is envisaged to be a website that is a place for differently abled people to connect, find job opportunities through a job portal, an e-commerce site and a matrimonial portal among other things. However, Raghavendra denies making a business out of it, “It’s just an experiment I work on in my free time to make the world accessible for disabled people. There’s so much groundwork to be done and it will take a lot of time.” says Raghavendra.
Raghavendra is upbeat about the road ahead. Happy with his job, he believes that motivation is “like a tablet to be had every day” and is thankful for the friends who support him and the small mercies shown to him.