Motivational Feature Ms Jasmina Khanna, Consultant, Atos Syntel
In this interview, we feature Ms Jasmina Khanna, who suffered Cerebral Palsy since childhood. Hear her journey on how she has fought her disability to have a successful career.
Getmeenabled: Please tell us about your journey of fighting disability and having a successful career in IT industry
Jasmina: I have cerebral palsy since birth, disability has been a life-long struggle not only for me but also for my parents. I am wheelchair-bound and can only type with my left-hand index finger, yet, have built a successful career as a software tester, with an expertise in web and database testing.
I completed my schooling from ADAPT (Erstwhile Spastic of India, 1989), completed my graduation from St. Xavier’s college, 1994, and did my M.A. from Mumbai University in 2004. Education has played an important role in where I stand today in life.
Upon graduation, I wanted to be financially independent, but I did not turn out to be as simple. I thought of offering tuitions to school children, but parents did not come forward to send their children to take tuitions from me. Looks like, there was a general perception that those with disability/physical challenge did not have mind of their own, how could they teach these children?
I then decided to acquire basic computer skills, and realized I needed to learn programming skills. I went about self-acquiring programming skills. After this with lot of struggle, I started getting some data entry work to be carried out from home. However, that work was not enough and could not keep me engaged. I started to email my profile to media houses for content editing jobs and started working as freelance content writer, however my pay was meagre considering the efforts I put in. Often my articles were published but I was not paid. Internet was expensive, and I ended up spending more to do that work than the amount I was paid.
I wanted to have a job in office, but my parents were worried about my ability to step out of house, commute and manage myself in the office. One of my friends took it up with my parents and convinced them to allow me to work at a workplace. Now bigger challenge was who would give me a job? Luckily, in 2005, my brothers’ client agreed to give me a data entry job in his software development firm. However, after seeing my profile, he decided I could try my hands at software testing. I worked for this company for nearly five years.
In my thirst for career growth, I continued to look for better job opportunities. With the great experience I had, I thought it would be easier this time, but I was proven wrong!
In 2010, I appeared in interview, cleared technical and HR interview on phone. I told HR about my disability, waited endlessly, and did not get a response. My parents found someone to refer me for a position at Syntel, and I was offered a job on contract basis. With my good performance and hard work, I was soon taken on company payroll within 8 months of joining and doubled my salary. It has been 9 years now since I have been serving Atos Syntel.
Getmeenabled: It is very inspiring to see you established well in the IT field. What is your advice to persons with disability (PwDs) aspiring to be in IT careers?
Jasmina: I would like our society to be more broadminded about their attitudes towards people with disabilities. Given an opportunity, PwDs can acquire skills and be productive. People with disability should not give up easily. Perseverance and hard work can get you what you want to be. I believe every accomplishment starts with a decision to try. Just prove yourself and opportunities will follow you.
Getmeenabled: Has your disability helped you be a better tester?
Jasmina: I have never considered myself any lesser than other tester. I dont let my disability come in my way as a software profession. To change the perception of the people around me and work with me, I had to travel that extra mile to prove myself. Once you have proven yourself, those around you would say “Your presence inspires and motivates us”.
PwDs could do testing job well. One of the aspects in testing is accessibility. With 5% or more of world population needing accessibility of the IT systems, it is important to make IT systems more accessible. Accessibility can be best tested by person with respective disability.
Getmeenabled: We see you are very visible activist for accessibility and Equality. Tell us about your experience as an accessibility activist.
Jasmina: In India, there is very little understanding or willingness to change the ecosystem to help enable persons with disability (PwD). I focus on activism for accessibility and equality for the PwDs. I’ve been honored to be recognized as one of theTop 5 Inspirational role models in India with Cerebral Palsy in the year 2017, recipient of CavinKare Ability Master Award 2018,Top 10 Disability Influencers in India in the year 2018and Top 10 women with disability achievers in India in 2018.
Getmeenabled: Please share with us your views about accessibility in India. What initiatives corporates, governments, NGOs are taking up to make India more accessible?
Jasmina: Accessibility in India has a long way to go. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 is based on the principles adopted by UN General assembly in the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in December 2006. If the policies as per this act are diligently implemented, 80% of the problems of PwDs in India would be solved.
Lack of accessible transportation, educational institutions and workplaces is keeping people with disabilities from coming out of home and contribute to India’s GDP. If infrastructural barriers are addressed, entry of more PwDs at workplace would help breakthe attitudinal barriers in our society.Corporates, government, and the NGOs need to work hand in hand to make India a barrier-free country.
Getmeenabled: What are the devices, services etc needed to make India more accessible? Do you see any roadblocks in our country in use of these?
Jasmina: There are many assistive devices like power wheelchairs, Automatic scooters, Smart sticks for the blinds that come to aid to make people with disabilities more independent but infrastructure barriers are the biggest roadblocks to make full use of assistive devices.
Getmeenabled: What role do you think is getmeenabled.com online store playing in the space of accessibility?
Jasmina: getmeenabled.com online store is a unique concept that caters to the needs of all kinds of disabilities. It has assistive devices for physical disabilities, visual, speech impairment, and other disabilities. Getmeenabled.com is making available assistive devices to both people with disability and elderly population in India at their doorsteps. It is a one-stop shop specializing in all assistive devices under one roof.
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