It looks like any other college farewell party. The room is decorated with streamers and balloons and pizza, cake and cola make up the lunch menu. Group photos are being taken, there’s laughter all around thanks to the usual ribbing between friends and yes, each one has to dance or mimic a friend when their name is pulled out of a cup. The only difference: all this is happening without a word being spoken. The 20-odd youngsters from Tamil Nadu and Kerala assembled in the room are all hearing impaired, communicating with each other with sign language. This is the 33rd batch graduating from Chennai-headquartered V-shesh in the past three years, all of whom have been differently abled in one way or the other.
With trainer Alafia Mustafa, who has been with the social enterprise since 2011, acting as interpreter, I interact with the students and realise quickly that their aspirations and concerns are no different from any other 20-something person. “I’ve learnt more here in the one-month training than in three years of college. There, we had to mug up everything without understanding. Here, they take time to explain concepts and help us understand them,” says 23-year-old BCA graduate N Karthik from Chennai. For some, the training has given a boost of confidence to face the outside world. “V-shesh has ensured that we can adapt in the real world. We always had the capability but lacked the confidence. Now, we are better equipped to not only find jobs but also adapt better, which will help us retain our jobs,” says 25-year-old engineer J Kishore.
This is what V-shesh aims to do. While the estimated number of disabled people varies, there is no doubt that there is a large talent pool in India that remains untapped. The 2011 Census estimates that over 2.2% of the total population, or close to 27 million people, are disabled, while WHO estimates put the number as high as 7% of the population. V-shesh thus works to improve job opportunities and income levels of persons with disabilities both from metros and non-metros by helping them get their first job. “Landing the first job has definitely been the gamechanger for many of us. But three factors — geography, socio-economic background and disability — create a disadva