In 2009, just as I joined Cognizant through an acquisition, a car accident left me paralyzed from the neck down. At 29 years old, and in a split second, everything changed: I was completely paralyzed in my chest, abdomen, legs and hands, and partially paralyzed in my wrists and elbows. I still had full shoulder function.
I had two choices: Be the victim of my circumstances, or be the hero of my life. I chose the latter. It wasn’t easy, but all things are difficult before they become easy. I spent two years in rehabilitation, focusing on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.
With Resilience, There Is No Limit
I learned to type by manipulating my fingers with minimal wrist function. This allowed me to continue working from home for Cognizant. In 2012, I had a car modified with hand controls so I could start driving again.
A couple of years later, I started swimming. No one was willing to coach me, so I used YouTube. I didn’t miss a single day of training, and in a year’s time, I’d won four gold medals in Paralympic swimming at the Tamil Nadu state championship, three at the national championship and three more at the Can-Am Championship in Canada. I took up rifle shooting and won two national championship golds. Today, I have more than 20 gold medals and finished in the top five at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018.
I believe there’s no limit to a person’s abilities. I am a certified deep-sea diver, surfer (yes, you can do these things using only your upper body) and fashion model. I travel the world alone. If you ask me how I do all this, it’s because every single day, when I wake up, I find reasons to enable myself.
Why We Must Build an Inclusive Workplace
We are stronger as a company when we include people with disabilities on our teams. Why? Because for every 100 resources a non-disabled person has, we have 10 – and we optimize every single one. We know how to work with what we’ve got and find new ways to solve problems. We face down adversity and keep going. Every team needs these qualities to innovate and thrive.
We’re also very good for business. A recent study found companies that champion and include people with disabilities outperform others by a hefty margin, with 28% higher revenues, 200% higher net income and 30% higher profit margins.
We have a ways to go in many parts of the world, especially India, but I believe diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the workplace are becoming a bigger part of the global conversation. I recently joined a new team that we’re hoping can serve as a model for how diverse backgrounds, abilities and perspectives can come together for stronger outcomes.
Ultimately, it comes down to equity: ensuring all of us have equal opportunities to thrive and contribute. The saying goes, “Diversity is about inviting everyone to the party, and inclusion is about asking everyone to dance.” I’d add that equity is about making sure the dance floor is accessible to everyone. I hope you’ll join me out on the dance floor soon.
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