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Dr. Jitender Aggarwal shares how Sarthak Educational Trust is empowering Persons with Disabilities across India

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Sarthak Educational Trust is a Non-Profit Organisation working towards mainstreaming People with Disabilities. In India, 20% of disabled individuals have a movement disability, 19% have vision impairment, and 19% have hearing impairment. Additionally, 8% of the population has multiple impairments, as per reports.
Dr. Jitender Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Sarthak Educational Trust, is also part of the group with vision impairment caused by a non-treatable condition, Macular Degeneration of the retina. He founded this organisation in July 2008 with an aim to empower disabled individuals to be “Masters of their own destiny and finding their own success”.
The Trust places emphasis on delivering high-quality ‘Skill-Building Education and Training Opportunities’ to young individuals with disabilities. Its mission is to empower one million individuals and create sustainable employment for 100,000 young people with disabilities.
The Trust has been working in collaboration with State Governments of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Telangana, as well as the Government of India’s Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Rural Development, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Labour and Employment, and Heavy Industries and Public Enterprise.
Dr. Jitender Aggarwal opens up to The CSR Journal about how Sarthak Educational Trust is empowering differently abled individuals through its 24 centres across India.

What was the inspiration to start Sarthak Educational Trust?

In 2004, I, was a practising dental surgeon and lost my eyesight within few days due to a non-curable eye problem – macular degeneration of retina. For four years, I struggled to find ways to sustain myself financially despite my qualifications, as at that time there were no jobs in the market for Persons with Disabilities either in private or in government sectors. Looking at my own plight, I could understand the anguish which other PwDs would be facing in their lives.
Non-inclusive environment and limited access to resources were some of the biggest constraints I faced. Also, the fact that I had to depend on someone was negatively impacting me. Instead of submitting to my fate and to the generosity of people, I decided to take charge to help myself and others in the same situation. I first got myself trained in screen readers and other software to manage and execute my daily activities through computers. After equipping myself, I embarked on a journey to empower and create an inclusive world for people with disabilities. In 2008, my dream got wings with the opening of the first Sarthak Centre in Delhi which aimed at providing skills and employing visually impaired candidates in the field of medical transcription.

Please tell us about two most popular programmes of this Trust

I want to talk about the Sarthak Global Resource Centre and Sarthak Job Employment & Entrepreneurship Training Programme.
Sarthak, since its inception, has focussed on imparting the skills necessary for PwDs as per the market requirements and ensuring their financial sustainability through employment in corporate sector. Starting with 8 VI Trainees in 2008 in my dental clinic, today Sarthak has its presence in 20 states across India, through its 25 skilling & employment centres supporting PwD candidates with all types of disabilities. Till date 0.6 million PwDs have been successfully upskilled and employed through our free of cost JEET program, in various sectors including IT/BPO, Retail, E-commerce, Hospitality, Banking and many others through 2000+ partner employers of Sarthak.
Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar inaugurating Sarthak Global Resource Centre on 9th Dec 2023 in Gurugram
The Sarthak Global Resource Centre was inaugurated in December, last year by the Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar in Sector 45, Gurugram. The centre is aimed at reducing the skill gap in employable young PwDs. It is an effort to meet the aspirations of disability sector, through ensuring quality and standard services to Persons with Disability (PwDs) across civil societies, complete and comprehensive understanding of disability by all stakeholders and guided orientation of new entrants in the sector. It also serves as a unique hub for research, technology innovation and a one-stop source to access any information and support related to disability sector.

Project Goals & Objectives:

To provide a facility to sensitize people and checking existing prejudices about PwDs through experiential learning.
To provide online support services to persons with disability through Mobile App, Toll Free support system and Online Portals
To provide an auditorium with accessible infrastructure and features to provide facility to organise accessible events for all disability categories
To provide innovative and stimulating play-spaces accessible and enjoyed by differently abled children
To explore and ensure diverse livelihood options for PwDs and ensuring an inclusive and equal opportunity workplace for them in terms of infrastructure as well as attitude.

You have been working for the People with Disabilities since the last 15 years— what are the challenges you have faced during your journey?

My own challenges that I faced post my disability issue opened my eyes to the fate of PwDs who had no access to financial stability due to non-existent job market and market related skills, attitudinal barriers, physical barriers in transportation and mobility, accessible technologies, social barriers and proper education opportunities. These problems still persist in our country despite the implementation of PwD Act 2016, Accessible India Campaign, new NEP and many other schemes and polices formulated by the Government of India. A lot of efforts are needed at all levels in the society to create a fully inclusive and empowered PwDs to ensure they lead a life of dignity and respect in our society.
Since the last 15 years, Sarthak is sincerely working in this direction to reduce the barriers and challenges of our Divyang community through a life cycle approach – providing interventions right from the birth of a child to early intervention therapies and rehab services, to inclusion of CwDs in mainstream schools and upskilling employment.
We at Sarthak are still trying for more involvement of different stakeholders including government agencies, corporate, civil society organizations, media, PwDs and their parents and the general public for creating a more inclusive system for our PwDs in every sphere of their lives.

What is Sarthak Vision 2025?

Sarthak has planned comprehensive targets in its mission to create a more inclusive environment for our PwDs for the next 4 years (2023-2027)
1. Empowering 10 Million PwDs across India.
2. Providing sustainable employment support including entrepreneurship to 0.2 million skilled youth with disability.
3. Expanding CSO (Civil Society Organisation) Partner network under IDEA by 1000 new partners & 50 developing countries’ organisations’ support through –
Signing MoU’s with partner NGOs for bringing in PwD users as provide them relevant services using digital solutions.
Organizing Webinars and online promotional activities and events to outreach and network with more NGOs.
Conducting Need-based assessment of partnering NGOs and organizing relevant training workshops.
Connecting NGO partners with funding agencies for relevant projects for PwD empowerment and inclusion.
4. Operationalize Global Resource Centre to provide all life cycle-based services to PwDs, Research, Innovation and Technology & Training of Stakeholders under a single facility with State-of-the Art experience.
5. Preparing Divyang talent for participation in 11th International Abilympics scheduled in Finland in 2027 –during FY 2023-27 and organizing 8 regional and 2 national events for screening and upskilling selected candidates for International event in 2027.

Please tell us about Sarthak Divyangjan Foundation

Sarthak works for financial independence and empowerment of persons with disability. To create an inclusive and equal opportunity workplace for PwDs, Sarthak provides consultancy services to corporates. SDF is registered as a Section 8 company.
The services provided under SDF concentrate on Physical, attitudinal and procedural accessibility. Some of the prominent partners include – Nestle, Colgate, Dr. Lal Pathlabs, Indigo, Aditya Birla Capital who have been supporting SDF’s initiatives.
The initiatives undertaken under SDF include –
1. Job Mapping – To explore suitable job roles for persons with disability across sectors
2. Accessibility Audit – To assess Physical accessibility of a worksite and suggest alterations to achieve the same.
3. Sensitization Workshops – To create awareness and attitudinal accessibility at different levels of the workforce in an organisation.
4. Sign Language Interpreters – It involves supporting hiring organizations with Sign Language Interpreter for Induction training of PwD workforce (Hearing Impaired or Hearing Hard).
5. Secondary Training – It involves anticipating and building competencies for future needs to equip the PwD workforce with the required skill set for career development and growth.
6. Return to Work – Every worker has a probability to acquire a disability or illness that hinders their ability to work. Thus, return to work or rehabilitation of disabled workforce is of immense significance as it assists employees to participate in work and earn a livelihood, contributing to the organisation’s growth while also recuperating.