Finding My Inner Strength To Strive Against All Odds
I hope my story inspires you to work hard and never give up on your dreams. Work with passion, be bold and confident and stop not till your goal is achieved, writes Upasana Ravikannan
I used to be a person who always doubted myself but I am so proud to share with you that I have gone on to start an NGO, “GoPaadhai”.
Oh, my readers, did I miss a few steps? Let me take a step back!
Having cerebral palsy and being a wheelchair user, I have been working towards improving my condition ever since I was born. My parents have been providing all possible support to make me more independent–from giving physiotherapy and enrolling me in an inclusive school to providing all kinds of possible opportunities to achieve my dreams. Most importantly, they treated me equally among peers, which gave me a sense of being in the real world.
My condition does not stop me from dreaming. I took a gap year after my high school graduation in the year 2020. My dream is to pursue child psychology and I took this opportunity to engage with children. I volunteered at my school (HLC International) to work with children and teach them English and math.
It was a life-changing opportunity for me. I learned a lot of things like how to deal with different kinds of people and age groups with different characteristics from all walks of life. I had a lot of ups and downs, struggled a lot in managing various things but I did not lose hope and worked hard to achieve what I wanted to pursue and I strongly believe that the gap year that I chose shaped me to start my next chapter.
Having my condition in mind (cerebral palsy and being a wheelchair user) I realized that universities abroad will have better opportunities in terms of accessibility and the quality of education would be much better, especially in the field of psychology.
In my life, I have realized that when I plan something it does not happen that way. When I was applying for universities abroad, a pandemic stepped in. There were many difficulties in the process and it took a lot of time for the process to set in. So my parents and I made the decision to stay in India for my undergraduate education.
Although I was very happy that we made a very practical decision as a family, I was very worried about the support I will receive from the universities that I apply to. The moment I realized abroad was not going to be feasible was the moment I started researching universities that had inclusion as one of their core values.
There were hardly any universities that had an inclusive setup and accessibility other than Ashoka. This university was my first choice.
During my schooling, the support of academic accommodations to take my exams, complete my assignments, note taking, etc was taken care of and I was very unsure if I will be receiving similar support while applying to Indian universities.
Right from the start, Ashoka university was very supportive of my accommodations. In fact, the university was very understanding that they allowed me to have my mother as a scribe to write my entrance test. I was thrilled and overwhelmed when I got admission into Ashoka.
Fast forward to the first year I was very nervous about taking online classes and writing long essays. One of my difficulties – my typing and writing speeds are very slow and I was worried even with the extra time given to me that I may not be able to complete my assignments on time.
That is when OLS came to my rescue and they introduced me to the software Otter.ai where the software types everything that I say. Believe me, it saves so much time and I was able to do everything independently which gave me a lot of confidence.
I completed my entire first year online and Ashoka was very supportive. This is my first year at the campus and I love it. Being a wheelchair user, it is very accessible for me because there are ramps, lifts, and even wheelchair-accessible restrooms. I am very independent on campus. Being a social butterfly, it is not difficult for me to make friends or interact with new people but I was very nervous about what people will think about my disability, not that I care about what people think.
But it’s very nice when people see me beyond my disability.
I have been selected as a Young Ashoka Changemaker, 2021 where I have been raising funds for underprivileged schools and communities. I started my own NGO called “GoPaadhai”. I published a book called “Paadhai”, which has my story and three other amazing young changemakers’ stories as well. During this process, the professors were so understanding and even reduced my workload so I could focus on writing my book. These things motivated me and gave me more confidence in what I do.
I faced a lot of challenges but I didn’t let go of my dreams.
Being at Ashoka University for two years changed me as a person too. I learned that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes when things get hard, we need to enjoy the process because, in the end, we will learn something from it.
(Upasana Ravikannan is a second-year undergraduate student studying Psychology at Ashoka University.)