From local advocate to global change-maker: changing the landscape for the differently-abled

At a young age, she has accomplished a range of feats that include educational excellence, advocacy and policy change. Harshitha Chirraanjeevi was born with an inherited, degenerative eye disease that has led to her vision to be reduced to 40%. One of the toughest challenges that Harshitha recalls is having to write her own 12th grade exams when she was not permitted the use of a scribe. Despite feeling defeated, Harshitha excelled and gained entry to in to Mount Carmel College in Bangalore, one of the most prestigious educational institutes in the region. At Mount Carmel College, she found the environment to thrive, winning the Academically Bright Award which recognized not only her academic brilliance, but also her involvement in social and cultural events in the community.

During her third year at college, Harshitha faced a trying time as she had to undergo regular laser surgery for glaucoma, which affected her class attendance. In the face of receiving bad news about her deteriorating eyesight, Harshitha found solace in other individuals with visual impairments that excelled in their education and careers. These individuals helped her cope with her disability and helped introduce her to assistive technology so that she could read, learn, travel and work independently. While working at several NGOs, Harshitha realized the dependence of visually impaired people on braille, which was not affordable to many due to high taxes that have been imposed on braille equipment.

In late 2015, Hashitha was given the opportunity to meet with Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the Indian National Congress, where she brought up the issue of import taxes on braille equipment. In February 2016, Mr. Gandhi took Harshitha’s point before the Indian parliament and spearheaded the waiving of import duty, by the government, on braille paper. Harshitha’s efforts were highly appreciated and commended by Mr. Gandhi, who sent her a congratulatory letter, propelling her to prominence at both state and national level. Impacting policy change has been an enormous achievement for young Harshitha. As a result of her advocacy, approximately 12 million people now have access to more affordable braille paper.

Harshitha’s goal is to work on making technology accessible to the differently-abled. In order to keep up with the development of such technologies and to expose herself to the current issues facing the education and employability of differently-abled, Harshitha works with several NGOs. Harshitha devotes much of her time to counseling children and students from poor economic and social backgrounds, educating them about the importance of higher education, training, employment and sports. In addition, she has been actively involved in research projects that enable institutions to understand the challenges facing the visually challenged community, advising them on developing and adapting technology to make the lives of the differently abled much simpler. She frequently works with entrepreneurs to ensure that their websites and resources are accessible to those who are visually challenged, in order to make those environments more inclusive.

In an effort to improve her computer literacy, Harshitha has undergone a training program at Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in Bangalore. While doing the training, Harshitha worked with the team at the institution to train students in spoken English and soft skills. Empowerment of individuals in rural areas is also a cause that is close to Harshitha’s heart as she works with several NGOs to educate and create awareness. Recently, Harshitha joined ARISE Impact (Act to Rise for Innovation in Special Education Impact) in the capacity of Volunteer Lead in Community Mobilization and Advocacy, where she is providing valuable insight from the ground in order to help the organization develop resources centered around employability for the differently abled. She believes that her strengths include creativity, risk taking, never back backing down from a challenge, perseverance and loyalty.

Harshitha’s creativity fuels her passion for music, script writing and film making. She aims to one day write scripts for Disney and start her own production company that will make films centered on social issues and empowerment. She believes that breaking these barriers will encourage other differently-abled individuals to pursue their dreams despite challenges. As a starting point to creating these waves of impact, Harshitha hopes to work for Google so that she can gain valuable insight in to technology and inclusive strategies in the western world. She believes that such insight and knowledge would help her one day start her own company in India, which will provide employment opportunities for those who are differently-abled. As a result, she hopes to wipe out all barriers and challenges that currently stand in the way of individuals with disabilities.