"As a disabled girl, I faced challenges. But now I have a strong mind."

This year, International Women’s Day is all about empowering women to stand up for their rights and realise their full potential. At Motivation, this is at the forefront of our work.

In many of the countries we work in, stigma towards disability remains rife and disabled people face discrimination on a daily basis. Sadly, for women and girls with disabilities, this discrimination is two-fold. Not only are they disabled but due to their gender they experience additional barriers to inclusion – this makes them one of the most marginalised groups in society.

We caught up with Madhu, the administrator in our Sri Lanka office, to talk about her experiences of being a disabled woman in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

As a disabled girl, I faced challenges. But now I have a strong mind.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Madhu. I am forty years old and live in Colombo with my two younger sisters, mother and father.

Since birth, I have never been able to walk. I have never taken any medicines or had any treatment for my disability. My bones are just not strong enough, so I use a wheelchair. I currently have an electric wheelchair, which was donated to me. The terrain is not good in Sri Lanka so I can’t go outside on my own but I can use my wheelchair to get around my home.

What was your childhood like? Did you go to school?

When I was young, I heard about other disabled children but I never met any of them. I was the only disabled person I knew.

I couldn’t attend school because it was not accessible. My parents both worked for the government so did not have time for me. When they were at work, my Grandma looked after me at home.

Have you faced challenges with discrimination and finding employment?

As a disabled girl, I faced challenges. There is little accessibility in Sri Lanka, for example, so it was always difficult to get around and be included. But as a woman, I have a strong mind.

It was very difficult to find a job before I started working for Motivation. Accessibility was an issue, and I didn’t have an education, qualifications or job experience.

Now that I am working, I am independent and do not need to depend on others.

And what do you do in your spare time?      

One of my sisters has two children so I spend a lot of time with them and the rest of my family. I write Sinhala poems and short stories too – I enjoy reading and writing.

I also appear on local radio stations and television channels, delivering motivational speeches to other people with disabilities.

When I was a child, there was no understanding of disability in Sri Lanka. But it is improving! People are becoming more aware of disabled people, and disabled people are becoming more included by their communities. Accessibility is still not good – it is difficult to travel around with wheelchairs – but it is getting better!

Thank you, Madhu.

Support Motivation

At Motivation, we #PressForProgress by providing training that helps people with disabilities feel empowered.

Our Peer Training sees wheelchair users teaching wheelchair users extra mobility skills, health management skills and information about their rights. This gives them a vital support network, and the knowledge and confidence they need to access employment, rejoin society and live independent lives.

Our Parent Carer Training helps mothers understand the causes of their children’s disabilities and how best to keep them healthy. It teaches them about their children’s rights, and how they can fight for them to be included in society.

We also #PressForProgress by working with communities to challenge the discrimination that leads to disabled people being excluded in the first place.

Support Motivation this International Women’s Day to give other disabled people like Madhu the chance to be independent and live fulfilled lives.