People didn't think a woman with a disability needed an education. She proved them wrong.

Over 1 billion people live with a disability.

Yeah, billion with a "b."

And while that means about 15% of the world's population lives with some form of disability, many individuals are still subject to prejudice and ignorance.


Accion shared one woman's story and took a closer look at what can be done to support people with disabilities in the populous, immense, and culturally complex country of India.

Image via Accion Global/YouTube.

24-year-old Reshma Babu is a successful young woman, but her future didn't always seem so bright.

Before she was 6 months old, Reshma contracted polio and lost the use of both of her legs. Not long after, both of her parents died, leaving the vulnerable infant in the care of her aunt, Parveen.

Her aunt paid her tuition and accompanied her to school each day through 10th grade. Neighbors would ask Parveen why she even bothered to educate Reshma.

All images via Accion Global/YouTube.

But Parveen never gave up, and luckily, neither did Reshma.

In a country where many people with disabilities have limited employment opportunities, Reshma was able to find a job she loves.

Reshma got a position with Vindhya, a data entry and customer support company. She works in the call center, fielding more than 170 calls a day.

Vindhya stands out because nearly 80% of their employees are people with physical challenges or vision or hearing impairments. The company began as a small, family-run business and now boasts clients like Yahoo, MetLife, and multiple Indian micro-finance organizations.

But their commitment to equal opportunity and promoting social justice is what has set them apart on the global landscape and what continues to help them exceed expectations and remain profitable.

Reshma is one of an estimated 40 to 60 million people in India living with a disability.

For a little perspective, that's five to seven times the population of New York City.

Negative assumptions about people with disabilities are so deep-seated in much of the culture in India, especially in rural and poor areas, that some schools won't even accept students with disabilities because they believe the children are incapable of the work.

"A lot of families keep their disabled children behind closed doors because they are embarrassed," said Shanti Auluck, a mother of a child with Down syndrome living in New Delhi, told The Guardian.

In addition to companies like Vindhya, many nonprofits and agencies in India are working to ensure everyone has a shot at success.

The Association of People with Disability, based in Bangalore, runs community learning centers and a school for children with disabilities, complete with interactive classroom technologies, sports programs, and art. They also offer a community mental health program and provide wheelchairs and orthotics to people in need.

Another organization, Parivaar, is a collective of parents' groups and NGOs working to improve the lives of people with disabilities throughout India. It's an invaluable resource for parents and caregivers looking to assist their children with special needs.

And last year, Indian people with disabilities got a much needed legal boost.

In 2014, India established The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, which accounts for 19 conditions and disabilities, including autism and multiple sclerosis — up from seven conditions in the 1995 legislation it replaced.

The bill confers certain rights to people with disabilities, including access to polling places, public buildings, and hospitals. The legislation also provides for 5% reservations in government offices and post-secondary schools for people with disabilities.

The bill requires ramps and other accommodations in new public buildings.

It's not a perfect bill, but many advocates are excited about the change.

"It means people with mental disabilities in particular have the right to hold a job, have the right to open a bank account, and no one can tell them 'no' because of their disability," disability rights activist Javed Abidi told The Guardian.

Disability or not, all of us want to be treated with dignity and respect.

Access to education and rewarding work are a large part of that. Supporting businesses and organizations that push for equal opportunities is a great way to do your part.

Across the globe or around the corner, everyone deserves a chance to live the life they imagined.

Hear Reshma tell her story in this short video from Accion International.

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Gates Foundation

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

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Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

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"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
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