Dr Aiswarya Rao, now 47, was struck with polio when she was three, causing weakening of her muscles and locomotive disability. She has been moving around in crutches since then. But this has neither been an impediment for Dr Rao nor has it weakened her passion for life. She is a successful paediatrician and a passionate disability rights activist, living life zestfully.
She, in fact, believes that her disability is a lot of fun, as it has taught her to love life and find pleasure in people and events. Positivism has become part of her DNA. On Twitter she describes herself as a ‘Woman by privilege and Winner by default!’
Dr Rao has gained a lot of recognition for her work and has been interviewed extensively by the media. In one of her interviews, she said, “I work alone and with a group of like-minded people on movements at the state, national, and international level in disability rights. Apart from the access to education, employment, sports, and public participation, a good deal of my work focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights of women with disability.”
A project that is close to her heart now is Better World Shelter for women in Chennai, a place where she was raised. Started in April 2016 at Nungambakkam in Chennai, the shelter is a safe space for young women with intellectual or physical disabilities to flourish and succeed, serving the twin purposes of accommodation and a skill training hub. But the shelter is not managed like a home or hostel. The environment is one of freedom and women are free to nourish their ambitions and decide things for themselves. There is a para-games and a para-athletics team. There are women aspiring for jobs, women indulging in their passion for arts and crafts, even studying for civil services.
Today, the Shelter houses 55 women with different disabilities, including locomotor, speech, learning, hearing, and visual impairment, among others. Dr Rao organises a wide range of vocational training sessions on a periodic basis, including jewellery making, sewing, quilting, sports, art, and embroidery. And it’s not work alone at the Shelter. Interestingly, nine marriages were organised so far at Better World Shelter.
In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, women are being trained to make face masks at the Shelter. Dr Rao also organises funds for women with the desire to pursue higher education. She also arranges for external trainers and experts to coach the women. Her hard work has paid off, for two of the women from the shelter have won national-level wheelchair basketball medals.
Dr Rao envisages a bright future for people with disabilities. And when she talks about dreams, she has a tangible objective in mind. Her “tangible dream” is to build a sports village, which would be an ideal space for people with disabilities to live independently with dignity and freedom, after conquering all obstacles.