With Newsroom And Tech Support, Shilpi Kapoor Is Breaking Barriers For People With Disabilities
- IWB Post
- June 13, 2019
Some time back, I chatted with Ashwini Angadi, the founder of ‘Belaku Academy’. Being visually impaired herself, she told me about the various problems that people with disabilities have to face in India. Today, I talked to someone, who set up force to address these problems.
As I enter the office of ‘Barrier Break,‘ I’m greeted with smiles. I trail the positive vibe towards the cabin of the woman who had created a space where people with disabilities can now reach their full potential and access all kinds of tech gadgets that were once only a dream for them.
We read that your mentor in your previous company inspired you to do something for the people with disabilities.
My mentor and I always communicated over the phone, and I had never imagined him to have a disability. He then told me that why don’t I try to help better the lives of people with disability and that got me curious, leading me to tons of research and ultimately setting up Barrier Break. I wanted to set up a system that would cater to all kinds of disabilities.
First, you started computer training for print-impaired children in your house. Tell us how the idea escalated into a venture.
I literally did that on a whim. I was in a learning program, and when I took up computer training for kids with disabilities, I realized that we can teach them all the skills required but it won’t be of any use if no one employs them. We used to go door to door to ask money from people for this cause. During this time, I felt like a beggar with a begging bowl. People with disabilities have an equal right to education, training as well as jobs. Also, I don’t believe in anything free. If something is given for free, we’re bound to take that service for granted.
To address this issue, we approached several already established MNCs and news organizations. We pitched a plan on how they can make their services disabled-friendly. But only because we were rejected by them, we had to set up an organization from scratch. And today we have people with disabilities working as salespersons, leaders of accessibility testing, training managers, etc. Our newsroom is run by deaf people.
These people are just like you and me. They only require training to learn the skill and a little bit of adjustment, that’s all. The intolerance of Indian society towards people with disabilities is reflected in the demographics of our clients. 80% of our clients are international and only 20% are Indian clients.
Abroad, there is no such discrimination and all that is expected of you is to deliver efficient results on time.
What, according to you, are three important facilities to be provided that can help the community of persons with disabilities to grow in life?
- MNCs should open their doors to disabled-friendly services. These same MNCs abroad are disabled-friendly. Even when it comes to television shows and movies, there are captions and audio-description services, but nothing as such in India.
- Don’t assume that jobs of lower caliber should be given to people with disabilities. If you are given something you don’t like, would you work efficiently? It’s important to recognize their core skills and accordingly put them in spaces where they can work best even if it’s digital marketing, being a DJ or even a plumber.
- In our day to day lives, we come in contact with at least 8-10 pieces of technology. But how many in the list are disabled-friendly. Yes, everyone in India has a 4G phone but are there any services provided by the mobile network company that the community can avail?
How do you manage to fund this project?
We had approached ‘Avishkar’ in the beginning and they immediately bought into our idea. However, three years back, we gave them an exit and from then on we have been financially independent and self-sustainable. We are also working on developing innovative products.
How has your family influenced your compassionate vision?
When my grandpa bought a computer home, he told me that even if I manage to teach one disabled person through this device, his money has been recovered.
Without my family’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to reach here today. There was this one time when we had opened a second office but we couldn’t make that much profit to sustain it. We had to later shut it down. I lost all belief in myself, but my parents and grandparents always kept faith in me. That pushed me to forget all failures and give my 100% to this company, and today we have so many other ventures like ‘Newshook’ and ‘Techshare’.
In 1995, you approached many institutions to set up computer training centers. Why was your idea rejected?
At that time, no one really thought that tech could actually help make the lives of people with disabilities better. The thing with us is that we have always been ahead of our times. The other day I was watching the Ted Talk video where the speaker was analyzing the main reason behind companies becoming successful or failing. Before his research, he thought it was the idea that it all depended on. But then through his research, he realized that timing really mattered.
So I don’t blame anyone as such, but patience is very crucial in one’s entrepreneurial journey. You have to wait to see society catching up with you and not give up on your idea just yet.
You’ve also founded ‘Techshare’. How does this platform help to achieve your goal?
‘Techshare’ is a knowledge sharing platform where different companies talk about how they’re making their gadgets disabled-friendly. For eg., Microsoft spoke about how people with disabilities can also play Xbox and other mainstream games. I usually speak about the employment opportunities that can help pave a way for the inclusion of the community in the mainstream and how it’s important to create jobs to tap into the full potential of these people.
How has the government helped you?
The government definitely has intent but when it comes to implementation, it fails somewhere. There are policies in place for websites to be disabled-friendly, but these websites are made by private vendors who choose to leave out the community.
How does ‘News Hook,’ your another venture, work?
We curate news as well as write our own articles. We have deaf reporters that convert news into sign languages and we have various segments like ‘Get Hooked,’ which is a series of stories about people with disabilities. Another popular segment is called ‘Deaf and Blind Critic,’ where movies are seen by our blind and deaf reporters and reviewed on a weekly basis. There is a section that informs people about events happening around them, for example, a training workshop for parents of children with disabilities, dandiya for the community, trivia on sign language, etc. With over 3 lakh visitors on our site, we’re trying to change the way these people are viewed.
With so much on your plate, do you manage to get ‘me time’?
I always try to make time for my hobbies. I love cooking, and my favorite is Red Thai curry and Vietnamese rice rolls. Photography is another passion of mine. I recently went to Stockholm and as part of a photography tour, at 2am, we were clicking pictures of the city. It was such a magical experience.
Time for IWB’s ‘Barrier-Breaking’ questions?
One barrier that you had to personally overcome?
I was all over the place. I wanted everything that came my way. I had no focus. But now through experiences and time, I’ve learned the importance of One Thing.
What is the next barrier you plan to break?
Perception of people with disabilities is still a barrier I wish to break. Once I’ve done that, then life will be worth it.
One book that helped you break barriers and attain confidence for success.
‘The Leader Eats Last’ by Simon Sinek. It talks about how a leader should always put their team first. I always try applying that in my life.
Your leadership strategy that breaks barriers?
Believe in yourself and in your idea. Although, the journey can get lonely. Make sure you create your own ecosystem of people that you can fall back on.
This article was first published on December 4, 2017.