Hasitha Illa Is Introducing Diversity And Inclusion To Workplaces!

As a wheelchair user, Hasitha Illa strongly advocates for diversity and inclusion. A skilled speaker and blogger, she is now an author as well.

As a wheelchair user, Hasitha Illa strongly advocates for diversity and inclusion. A skilled speaker and blogger, she is now an author as well.

Have you ever felt restricted in some way or felt like a particular space is inaccessible to you? Take something as simple as an unclean toilet at one’s workplace. It can cause us discomfort and make us feel unwelcome and unsafe.

Accessibility issues are often faced more by certain groups such as women, and economically weaker sections of society, as well as by minorities such as disabled persons, LGBTQ and immigrants in a new country.

It is often argued whether such groups should receive consideration, many activists assert that a welfare state should focus on providing human rights to ALL.

One such activist is Hasitha Illa!

After graduating in Biotechnology, she worked in research and is currently serving as a recruiting operation associate with Synechron in the United States.

As a wheelchair user, she strongly advocates for diversity and inclusion, as well as women’s empowerment. A motivational speaker and enthusiastic writer, she has her own YouTube channel, and blog and is now a published author as well.

It all started with my love for Biology

You graduated in biotechnology and went on to research in the same field. Biotechnology can be a daunting area for many, what piqued your interest in this particular subject?

In 11th standard, I had to choose between subjects – computers, maths and biology. I always leaned more towards biology and I especially credit my teacher who made the subject even more interesting for me. Biology eventually led me to biotechnology

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. I made a minor mistake of not choosing maths along with biology, nevertheless, I applied to one college accepting biology majors and got through.

The journey of learning biotechnology and researching it was extremely fun for me, though the opportunities were relatively less.

Currently, you are working for the recruitment team of your company, how did you transition into this role?

The human resources aspects happened on chance, but I am glad it did. I got my current position by luck, and I had a few references that brought me to my current company. I love writing and speaking, and this was an opportunity that allowed me to do both.

Promoting D&I in corporate step-by-step!

As a recruiter and activist for diversity in inclusion, what changes have you made or intend to make in the future?

In the corporate field, I realized that D&I (diversity and inclusion) is an important area of focus and plays an important role behind the scenes. Herein I saw how my activism can come into play in this space.

In my company, I started on D&I slowly and though there was growth concerning LGBTQ and women empowerment, however, there was still room for improvement in terms of disability awareness.

I have promoted inclusion through LinkedIn, the Yammer app, motivational talks and employee interaction.

What are your views on working from home, and how do you think it is beneficial for people with disabilities?

Initially, working from home for me was a bit difficult. I am an outgoing person, so being at home all the time took its toll. However, in terms of the physical aspect, I use a wheelchair, so it can be tiring for me to commute, so it had its plus and minuses for me, but it did help.

Currently, I work in an office twice a week in a hybrid model, so it’s a healthy balance for me. I can socialize at work and have fun while also having rest. The work-from-home option is a good one.

People at home need to look past physical differences

You have lived abroad and travelled the world, what are some inclusive developments, say initiatives of infrastructure, in other nations that you feel India should seriously consider?

There are many aspects I would say, the number one being accessibility. For example, when commuting in India, I would worry a lot about accessible public spaces, washrooms etc. In the US, it’s a norm to have accessibility in public spaces as well as washrooms, which is a huge relief. Even the nearest grocery store will have an accessible toilet.

Another thing I would say is the people. In the US, people I am surrounded with are generally more accepting of differences and individuality is celebrated rather than looked down upon like in India. There is more social independence and people are less wary of physical differences.

This, I feel, an ideology people are home can adopt more of.

You are a blogger and YouTuber, how and when did you decide to explore these mediums of communication, especially for activism?

It was first when I shared a stage with Shankar Mahadevan when I spoke publicly, and it gave me a lot of confidence. I started with YouTube once I found some free time after college.

I didn’t see it as a strength before, but I kept growing more confident in speaking and enjoyed making content despite the struggles.

Likewise, I also love writing as well, hence the blog and the book. Furthermore, I find both to be my important channels for self-expression.

My book aims to sensitise children and parents alike!

Now a published author, do share more about your book, the journey of penning it down and its USP.

My book, called Wheeling Away is a children’s book which I worked on with our illustrator, Niyati, and parenting coach Sakshi Singla.

This was my medium for expression as well as my first published work. The book follows a wheelchair-bound protagonist called Aarav and sensitizes children to be better allies to people with disabilities.

I didn’t have many friends growing up, and I received lots of questions from people worried about how to approach someone with a disability, what and what not to say. Therefore, I thought a book like this would demystify this aspect and make people more aware.

In your previous interviews, you often say that giving up is not an option. However, while constantly doing your best, there can be moments of exhaustion and hopelessness. How should one protect their mental health?

People often point out how happy and positive I am, but behind it all, there is a lot of draining struggle and low points. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t have a choice with my disability or choose my struggle or my wheelchair. With every adversity, there are blessings, I believe.

We can often overlook them or forget there are positive sides to every situation, but that itself is the fight.

I also credit my parents, as my support system. While my mother has been an emotional rock for me, my father has been my physical strength, always supporting me. In those ways, I consider myself blessed and keep looking at the brighter side of things.

Never ignore your mental health!

The new generation of students and young professionals is a mentally drained one. Struggling with myriad mental health issues, we are often expected to go about our work and activities as usual. Do you think this is the right thing to do, or should mental health take precedence?

As a kid, I would believe that my physical health is my top priority. However, after my disability, my physical and mental health plummeted. I realized in that period that my mental health was very important.

No matter how your physical health is, I learnt that mental health is a priority. In that, no matter how many challenges you face, your mental resilience is your first line of defence.

What advice would you like to give young professionals of today, especially in light of being inclusive and understanding that disability need not be an outlier, socially or otherwise?

When in a minority, being disabled, belonging to the LGBTQ community, or being a woman as well, a lot of our abilities can come into question however, I assert that everyone should dream big. It is important to define your life by yourself instead of trying to fit into social standards and norms.

Final Thoughts

Hasitha points out how it’s never too late to learn, and that there need not be barriers to people regardless of their stories. The most important thing is to be sensitive, patient and open-minded. While society makes hierarchies and often categorises people and experiences, learning is done best without bounds.

Whether it be speaking, writing, activism, travelling or taking on new experiences, always believe in yourself and venture forth!

Image source: Courtesy Hashita Illa, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Ria Tirkey

I am Ria from New Delhi. I'm a student of political science and law and I have a lot to say apparently. read more...

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