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

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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