The Act of God designation on all insurance policies; which means, roughly, that you cannot be insured for the accidents that are most likely to happen to you. – Alan Coren
Meet Ms. Abha Khetrapal Maurya, a multifaceted person. She is also part of Vodafone Foundation’s much awaited ‘Women of Pure Wonder’, the 4th edition flagship book.
Let’s know more about her journey…
Born healthy I achieved all the age-related developmental milestones. But Polio struck me at the age of three, the age when every little girl is busy playing with dolls. Thus, began my journey facing multiple challenges ahead. The initial attack of the virus was so strong that I was unable to move even a finger, I lost my voice. Going through a whole lot of painful therapies and surgeries at the tender age, I learnt to walk with leg braces but still could not go to school. No school was ready to give accessible classrooms on ground level. But fortunately, one school agreed to make necessary arrangements and I started going to school from 9th std, before that I studied at home since both my parents were teachers.
After attending four years of regular school, again the same problem of inaccessibility cropped up and I studied further through distance education. I did my graduation from Delhi University, Masters in Economics from Punjab University, Masters in English from Annamalai University and then Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy from the University of Nagaland. While studying, I started teaching in the tutorial centre which was run by my parents. Till date, my household expenses come from teaching. My education proved to be my greatest asset. Broadening my mental horizons, it has become the foothold of my career.
Wanting to do something for people with disabilities led to the conception of Cross the Hurdles in 2010 – first-ever online counselling website catering only to the needs of persons with disabilities. The idea behind it was that online therapy overcomes barriers that may preclude others from seeking therapy. Individuals residing in rural or remote areas where there are no counselling services could benefit from it. Those who were unable to leave their homes or their caregivers could easily access my services with little inconvenience. I started offering therapeutic email exchanges, telephone sessions and video-chat sessions, which are conducted via secure and encrypted technology ensuring privacy and confidentiality. I was glad to find that it worked and I was successful in bringing many of them out of their shells and made aware of their own strengths.
I registered Cross the Hurdles as a society 2011 to give more organized shape to my work. This society helps empower individuals with disabilities in areas such as their educational concerns, career development, vocational decision making, developing their self-advocacy abilities, creating awareness about their rights and teaching them life skills, to name a few. I also look after their career planning. My services till date are free of cost.
During my counselling sessions, I realized and understood some of the most intimate problems of women with disabilities which led me to author books; “Keeping You Abreast” – which is on breast cancer self-examination and awareness and “Going With The Flow” – Menstrual Management and Hygiene. I made sure that all the books were available in accessible formats.
I also wrote a book on tax exemptions available for people with disabilities in India. For me, information is always empowering. So, I launched the first-ever mobile application for the persons with disabilities – Cross the Hurdles. The application is a one-stop shop with all the information for persons with disabilities. For this, I won the Universal Design Award by NCPEDP in 2015.
I also initiated virtual classes for students in disabilities which are first of their own kind. The idea behind this is to eliminate, or at least reduce the disparity in access to quality education for children with severe and multiple disabilities.
In January 2016 I was chosen given 100 Women Award by the ministry of Women and Child Development and on 3rd Dec 2016, I was conferred National Award by the President of India in Role Model Category. This March 2017 I have launched Self-Paced Free Online Courses for Persons with disabilities which are first of their kind. I was one of the protagonists in the 61st National Award winning documentary Accsex which focused to bust the myths regarding disability and sexuality.
I have learned to use my voice, not only as my first line of defence but also want to be the voice for people who have not ever been heard. I have been a woman who has navigated through the journey of live facing attitudinal barriers and inaccessibility of every kind. So, my never-ending fight for inclusion and accessibility still goes on.
Challenges – faced & learning’s…
Challenges have been numerous and varied and the battle has been quite tough. I have been ”systemically challenged”. The colleges and universities that I went to seemed to have never given it a thought that a person with a physical disability would have a mind sane enough or bright enough to want to study. It was a failure of the system or as I call it ‘systemic failure’ that made me decide to complete my education through distance mode.
Not only this I had to face barriers and obstacles everywhere; whether it was a medical treatment or employment opportunities or it was getting medical insurance done or even while thinking about recreational facilities. Till this date, I have to remain thirsty for long hours when I go out of the home because I don’t even get accessible washrooms. I feel the lack of assistance from the State, which still has not able to make places and buildings friendlier for the people with disability.
On the personal front, while building friendships and love relationship again there were challenges. Marriage was the remotest dream for me. But yes I got married at a late age of 47 years. Married life is also not smooth, filled with major ups and downs of every kind. So at every step in life, I found hurdles dotted sporadically all through my way.
As Mark Twain has correctly said, “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions”. So the learnings have been many as compared to challenges. When I look back and see I find my life with a disability to be like a well-used patchwork quilt, organised and tightly sewn in some places, ragged and torn in others, and rudimentary in many but still keeping me warm and cosy in the rough times. I had to sustain myself in an unwelcoming world. I had to take on the world by developing non-traditional ways of accomplishing the ongoing tasks of life and had to out smart and out manoeuvre the traditional values of perfection, independence and speed. I learned to recognise my own attitudes towards disability, relate my experiences, isolate guilt and work positively on my own feelings. I knew that I had an intersectional identity which was layered with socio-political and cultural context.
Goal for the next 5 years…
I want to work relentlessly for the persons with disabilities especially for women with disabilities who are the most unguarded and unprotected among the most vulnerable groups. I want to educate and empower them in self-advocacy skills so that they can stand for themselves. I want to be involved in research work relating to the needs of women with disabilities especially in the areas of their health.
Message to all the readers…
So I would like to call on all the girls with and without disabilities here that Never let your story be presented in a distorted fashion, either through bizarre portrayal of a girl who always had tears rolling down her face and pain lurking in her eyes, instilling pity or monster-like anger, arising out of the frustration of being dependent or full of super-human feats, pressing the society to call us diving.
Never talk about my success or achievements by using the phrase ‘despite my disability’. This makes a person heroic by hype. I always say I have been able to achieve this or that by ‘incorporating disability’ into my life. Always maintain your self-esteem, never let your dignity ever be compromised. Create yourself and renovate your life. Your motor of life must always include these 4 ‘A’s- ‘Acknowledge, Admit, Adapt and Accept.’