Life is not easy for working mothers, it becomes even more difficult for a mother with a special child. The intensity of every challenge doubles.
On the backdrop of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, SheThePeople interviewed two working mothers each having a child with a disability.
Meet Lakshmi Kannan and Keerthana Kolli, the brave mothers, who are juggling between work and their children. Both are building their careers in the field of tech and overcoming every challenge they are facing.
Working Mothers On International Day of Persons with Disability
Lakshmi Kannan started as a mother of twin children (one with a disability), focusing on their needs. She eventually built her career in tech and not limiting herself to catering to children’s needs alone. She had a bigger vision. Today she is providing training and support to mothers like her who underwent a lot of difficulties to offer everything to their neurodiverse children. While doing so Lakshmi is taking the help of technology to create awareness and reach out to women having children with disability. She closely works with a Speech therapist, Special Educators, and Parents who want their children to communicate.
Lakshmi has 10+ years of working experience. She is post graduate in English, with UGC Net. Earlier used to work as an Executive Secretary. Soon she had to quit her job. Lakshmi devoted maximum time to taking care of her twins Roshan and Roshini, both being differently diagnosed with neurotypical and neuro-diverse conditions. However, hardship never stopped her from believing in herself.
While providing the best for children and understanding their needs, Lakshmi came across Avaz a decade back. An Avaz is basically a picture and text-based AAC app that empowers children and adults with complex communication needs to express themselves and learn. Lakshmi wanted her child to feel normal, and be able to voice his needs.
Lakshmi who proudly calls herself Roshan’s amma says, “I strongly believe in Inclusion. Advocating the rights of communication for every child makes me an exception. Be it neurotypical or diverse, I believe every child has the right to express or ask anything anytime anywhere.”
Lakshmi after her son’s death started to work with children to acquire communication in a school. She on her confidence, going forward chose the tech field to build her career. She has lived the spirit of empathy; she also applauds the hardship & technical minds behind the app.
She feels despite being short of technical knowledge, the team has been supportive and understanding. For Lakshmi working with a company associated with a disability is very personal. Her son is no more, but she hasn’t lost her faith.
Lakshmi aspires to pursue a Ph.D. in English Language Teaching (ELT) with a specialization in Emergent literacy. Lakshmi says, “I see myself progressing strongly towards empowering professionals and parents. I look forward to seeing a lot of children with disability in India being empowered and benefiting through technology. I strongly believe it will be a life-changing aspect for many children like my Roshan.
Lakshmi believes as a parent her child’s thoughts and independence matter the most to her. Technology can help reduce dependency making it easy for them to manage their disability and live a normal life.
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Keerthana Kolli is not just a working woman juggling her life between work and home, she is also a mother taking care of her autistic daughter. Keerthana is currently exploring the field of tech as a UI/UX designer while simultaneously catering to the needs of her five-year-old daughter on the spectrum.
Previously she was an architect by profession and had over five years of experience, but she had to quit after her daughter was born. Like any other mother, Keerthana too aspired to return back to work as her daughter grew older, but it seemed life had other plans. At the age of 2.5 years, her daughter was diagnosed with autism. Keerthana says, “My daughter’s diagnosis changed me as a person and all my life perspectives. Today I am more of a ‘mom in the wild’, like a mumma lion. I have a very strong latch to my natural instincts, versus those dictated by societal conventions. This has helped me the most in my journey of parenting a neurodiverse kid and finding solutions that work primarily to suit her needs rather than blindly relying on ableist suggestions.”
Keerthana talks us through why it isn’t an easy feat for a mother of a child with a disability to get back to her career, “All working mothers have a tough time managing the balance between work and home life. But for special mothers like me, the situation becomes grimmer. For children with disability, there are no daycares or trusted nannies. There aren’t even enough schools equipped to handle them, let’s forget about extracurriculars or sports to engage them in. Above that, there is a bigger drill of therapies and teaching and stimulating the child and engaging them positively too! Even employers in most companies are unaware of the struggles and hardly make any accommodations specifically to cater to these difficulties.”
After 5 whole years of professional break, in 2022, Keerthana joined Avaz as a product manager. She believes that though this role is very different from her journey as an architect the core of it still remains the same. The thrill to design and develop! Although for Keerthana this was more of an adaptive choice. She says, “People call me a changemaker, but I guess when all the blinded conventional methods are trashed away from your life due to your child’s differences in support needs, we have to take the road not taken. I would say it’s a smart adaptive choice rather than about being a changemaker. Because deep down I believe each mom is capable of doing the same but they stop themselves due to a lack of courage. Maybe not me.”
Interestingly Keerthana’s daughter is also a user of the Avaz ACC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) app and that was her first encounter with the app and eventually with the team. She shares with us how stigmatised any sort of assistive technology is in Indian society and how many hurdles she had to cross to be able to provide her child with the right AAC. To help other moms reach this decision sooner, she also tries to create awareness about Autism and AAC through social media.
Further adds, “I was always passionate about being an ally for persons with disabilities and this job lets me do both and more. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. More than anything the team is aware of her daughter’s condition and is ready to go above and beyond to make whatever accommodations required to support me.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more companies took this approach and provided mothers of children with a disability an opportunity to pursue careers by making such small dedicated accommodations”, added Keerthana.
Keerthana is pursuing a career in assistive technology so that she can be a better ally to persons with disabilities and constantly work on solutions that can enable their environments. She says, “No child should be deprived of a medium to communicate with the world around them. The inability to communicate becomes a huge barrier to any individual’s independence and competence.” Inclusion and empathy go a long way in transforming lives and society at large. Why should our workplaces be any different?
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