On Fathers Day – 21 June 2020

What inspired you to have Devanshi join Special Olympics?

We came to know about Devanshi’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome in the first month of her birth. We gathered information from different sources to understand the details. It helped us quickly overcome the initial emotional upheaval. Later we had decided to bring up Devanshi like any other typically growing child. So, we followed all the steps which later came to be known, under the umbrella of Inclusion!

Having studied and explored different possibilities, I came to know about the Philosophy and Mission of Special Olympics. It gave many opportunities to Athletes to train and help them attain their full potential. There was a possibility of helping Devanshi into a confident child so we registered her under the program. I later started a State Program for benefit of thousands of other children from East Maharashtra, as there was no SO Program available in that area, then (in ’90s) 

What changes have you seen in her? What changes have you seen in yourself or in other volunteers/supporters?

SO Training and participation aligned very well with our plan of inclusive growth for Devanshi. She developed confidence and quickly learnt to mix up with different groups of children. This helped her in developing excellent relationship with her peers in regular school. She later passed her X & XII from NIOS. 

I was given the responsibility of Area Director, SO Maharashtra East. In that capacity, I managed to reach out to over 15000 families from various districts and understand them. I trained Athletes and our team played at Nationals. Five Athletes participated in World Games in China and won Gold Medals. It helped in understanding abilities of children with special needs and gave immense satisfaction to see them grow and succeed.

It helped volunteers & supporters by increased awareness and being more empathetic. Awareness levels increased in various sections of the society.

Your proudest or most memorable moment?

  Our Athletes won many Awards in National tournaments and five of them, coming from low socio economic background got a chance to take part in World Games in China. They won Gold Medals.   Devanshi also won Awards in National Games. We got a chance to host Area Directors’ Meet in Nagpur in 2004. This saw good participation of National & International SO Leaders. 

How do you describe Special Olympics to other people? Why do you say they should support Special Olympics?

SO fosters friendships and works towards Inclusion of PWIDs through sports training, events and other innovative programs. It helps in overall development of children with IDs to grow up as happy & confident adults. This definitely helps the process of mainstreaming. 

How are people with intellectual disabilities treated in our country, according to you? Has this changed over time?

Condition of children and adults in India needs to be understood. There still is stigma, low levels of acceptance leading to exclusion in many ways, despite good initiatives. Awareness levels have gone up in some areas, but a lot needs to be done. India has the highest number of children with ID who are spread over different states and in rural areas. They need to be reached. Many of them have to lead life in oblivion. Govt programs are yet to reach the rural and socio-economically backward families. Process of issuing Disability needs to be streamlined. Govt needs to implement policy & programs with more sensitivity & sincerity.

How does this pose challenges for athletes, family members or volunteers?

Non issuance/ delays in getting Disability Certificate either delays or inhibits the basic acceptance of the condition of child. It further gets compounded by negative experiences of families during social interactions. This is where SO helps in building network of friends and mentors to champion the cause. 

How has Special Olympics improved attitudes and helped build unity or community? – do you think so?

SO has, over the past two-three decades made a large scale n lasting impact in sensitizing the society. Great positive success stories of our athletes getting laurels at Global level has brought about very good change in society’s way of looking at our children. 

Any details that might be unusual or fascinating to others?

Spirit of inclusion helps every individual in working hard towards attaining his/ her full potential. Special Olympics, through various programs like, Unified Sports and Youth programs, fosters this spirit. Unlimited opportunities open up for one to choose and this gives hope to the parents 

Tell us about your daughter?

Devanshi is a trendsetter in many ways. She is 26 years old and has Down Syndrome. She was brought up in an Inclusive environment since early years and did her schooling from regular school. She has passed X and XII from Open School, writing her exams by herself. She is in Regular Employment for the past seven years and was awarded National Award by Hon’ble President of India as Best Employee, for her passion and dedication to work. Devanshi has received national and international acclaim and many awards including Helen Keller Award, Best Role Model Award, Down Syndrome Federation of India and Stree Udhyami Award. Australian Parents Association.

She is the first Employee of Big Bazaar, Future Group, who has Neuro Diverse condition, where she is working for the last over a year as full time permanent employee. She is a trend setter in many ways and was chosen as Icon by Election Commission of India for their National video campaign of Accessible & Inclusive Elections 2019. Recently she was invited as a speaker at UN Geneva on the occasion of World DS Day in March.20. (Could not attend due to Corona crisis) She was invited Keynote speaker at IASSID International Congress. She is a Youth Leader of Special Olympics Bharat. 

Mr Anil Joshi is a Computer and Systems Management professional and has worked extensively on Technology Development to facilitate Inclusion of PWDs in the society. He is one of the founder members of the National level umbrella organisation of Parents Associations for spreading Awareness, Advocacy and Activism for championing for the Rights of PwDs and PwIDDs. He has served four terms as Board Member of National Trust, Govt of India since 2003 till 2019. He has contributed extensively to policies and programs of the Govt. of India.

He does research to find ways to improve quality of life & services for PWDs and has written many articles and presented them in the National & International Conferences. Accessibility, Diversity & Inclusion are his PASSION as he offers his services to NGOs and Corporates.