Namrata Mehta Of Sightsavers India: Vision Is Different From Sight

Visually impaired Namrata Mehta says, "I know the road sometimes is difficult, especially for a woman with a disability, but I just want them to know, never stop dreaming."

Namrata Mehta is a social development professional working at Sightsavers India as Technical Specialist-Policy Analysis and Coordination and lives with a visual impairment. A conversation with her about women with visual disabilities.

Women with disabilities in India are a margin within a margin, who have to fight many barriers when it comes to even basic rights like education, healthcare and inclusive workplaces.

A report titled Employment Rights of Disabled Women in India states that ‘Both disability and gender are physical constructs that totally ignore the personhood. Being a disabled woman also fits well into the stereotype of passivity and dependency.’

Namrata Mehta is challenging stereotypes and living an independent life

Mehta however, has challenged all those stereotypes and is now an independent modern woman with a disability who leads the way for several others.

Namrata Mehta recalls that there weren’t many good educational setups for children with visual impairment in their small town in Odisha. Due to the lack of inclusive schools in the neighbourhood, she had to be moved to the National Association for the Blind (NAB), a residential school in Delhi, at a very young age.

A challenge can be overcome if you have a strong support system

She says, “As tough as it was for me, it was for my parents as well. I remember missing my home, homemade food, and my parents! Although I remember being homesick during my initial time in school, that experience taught me to be independent, and confident in dealing with difficult situations in my life today.”

Namrata Mehta went on to complete her Graduation from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, and my master’s in social work (MSW) from Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi.

The global prevalence for disability is higher for women (19%) as compared to that of men (12%) (WHO and World Bank 2011). Women with disabilities are also at a larger risk to be discriminated against and left behind in all kind of opportunities in life.

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Mehta remains among the lucky few who could avail a good education and mould her career.

Acceptance and love are key elements

She credits her teachers, friends and family equally for this and says, “Super supportive parents, and loving sisters. I never found myself losing out on anything because I have a disability – from climbing trees to running around and playing in the park with my sisters. My parents never questioned if anything was possible or not, their acceptance of my disability was never an issue. This enabled my neighbours and friends to also involve me in day-to-day activities.”

She adds that she had a visual impairment since birth and hence she did face challenges but had it not been for a great support system-family, teachers, friends, colleagues, educational institutes, and workplaces, she would not have been what and where she is today.

Women with disabilities are regularly dehumanized

A report by the Women with Disabilities India Network (WDIN, 2019) revealed that women with disabilities are not just consider a burden, deprived of decision-making powers, frequently abused and harassed against, they are also not considered to be ‘woman enough’.

Mehta elaborates, “Many believe that people with disabilities live a very different life, which might not include having hobbies and interests…. Several other biases, like people who cannot see do not dream. People with disabilities are paying back for their sins.” She further adds that this isn’t a class or education issue, these prejudices and bias are prevalent in every stratum of society.

The open labour market is not so open

According to a UN, Woman with Disabilities fact sheet, “People with disabilities in general face difficulties in entering the open labour market, but seen from a gender perspective, men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities.

Recalling the hurdles she faced in her professional life, Mehta shares that many recruiters told her that she will not be getting a particular job because it involved travelling. This was despite her letting them know that she was comfortable travelling. The biases run deeper and are often subconscious.

Narrating one such incident, she says, ”I was once called in for an interview and waited two hours for my turn. When the recruiter met me and realized that I am a woman with visual impairment, he started behaving awkwardly and wrapped my interview in two minutes.”

However, in her current role in her current organization, she feels she is valued as an equally contributing member of the workforce and her abilities to complete the tasks required in her job role are never doubted or questioned because of her disability.

Lack of awareness about disability and its importance to women in society makes it doubly challenging for women with disabilities. A woman with a disability faces, what we call, ‘double discrimination’- gender and disability.

Long road ahead

There has been work towards the inclusion of women with disabilities, in particular women with visual disabilities, but yet there is a lot of ground to be covered. Mehta recalls how tactile education was not so easily accessible when she was a child, but is more and more easily available now.

The accessibility can however not be limited to just education and skilling it has to be across the board and must include areas like independent living, sports, dating and sexuality too.

Digging deeper in the research for this interview it was also found that this need for companionship, love and having families is also now being recognized as part of the inclusion and there are some non-profit organizations also run marriage bureaus exclusive to women with disabilities.

From managing a successful career and family to playing cricket, these women are now doing it all, albeit with greater difficulty that demands greater resilience and perseverance.

Never stop dreaming

Mehta concluded at the end of this interview,” Being a woman with a disability, I know that many of us keep struggling to prove ourselves in every sphere of life to be at par either with men or people without disabilities. Support from family and friends is a major contributing factor in ensuring that a child with a disability grows with the belief that he/she isn’t different. It inspires confidence, and that applies to every spectrum of a human being.”

She further adds, “Support and sensitization are imperative. I know the road sometimes is difficult, especially for a woman with a disability, but I just want them to know, never stop dreaming. Chase after your goals, travel, live, love, and laugh-you’re as important as anyone else.”

Indeed, a bit of sensitivity and receptivity really makes a world of difference for people with disability in general and women with disabilities.

Image source: Namrata Mehta, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...

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