New Delhi: Sai Prasad
Vishwanathan, India's first disabled skydiver who has since
childhood suffered a loss of sensation in the lower half of his
body, will add another feather to his cap when he goes to
Antarctica in 2013.
Sai will become the first Indian with a disability to travel to
the icy continent. In his 20s, Sai said he had an extra growth in
his spinal cord and a surgery to remove it left him disabled.
"This put tremendous stress on my parents. Lack of awareness and
societal shame of bringing up a child with disability pushed them
to a corner. Not a hospital was left unvisited to find a cure for
my disability," Sai told IANS in an email interview.
"It is a childhood no one should have. No parents should be given.
But it happened," he said.
He was forced to change many schools as they could not help him
due to his disability. But, believing that his "salvation" lay in
education, his parents pushed him through different schools.
"My disability turned out to be my asset. It gave me many skills
of my life," said Sai who hails from Thiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu
but stays in Andhra Pradesh with his family.
He later received a scholarship for a degree at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
Sai went on to become an engineer.
"It was pleasantly shocking at how disabled friendly the US was.
Their infrastructure support for the physically-disabled was
simply mindblowing. Every public place, transport, nook and corner
"It was like a little heaven, for a person with disability," he
His life changed when he spotted a skydiving advertisement on the
university campus, and went for it. Thanks to that, he is now in
the Limca Book of Records as the first Indian with a disability to
skydive from a height of 14,000 feet.
"I was selected from across the world, as one of the 30 Antarctic
Youth Ambassadors in 2012, and will become the first Indian with a
disability to travel to Antarctica in February 2013," he said.
Leading disability rights' activist Javed Abidi is all praise for
"Sai Prasad Vishwanathan is a true role model for millions of
young disabled people across the country on how disability is not
an impediment to success," Abidi said.
His story "is a testimony to the fact that if a disabled person
has access to the same opportunities like any non-disabled person,
the possibilities are endless".
Sai has won a host of awards, including the Helen Keller Role
Model Person Award instituted by the National Centre for Promotion
of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in 2011.
He has also been featured in TV programme "Satyamev Jayate" hosted
by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan.
"Aamir Khan brought the disability issue the much-needed
attention. For the first time in the history of our country,
disability was being discussed from the viewpoint of education and
infrastructure, rather than karma and attitude," said Sai.
With the help of four friends, Sai has started an initiative
called Sahasra, which provides scholarships to needy and
meritorious students for engineering and higher education.
The initiative has so far helped 50 students for their engineering
education, and provided scholarships worth Rs.12 lakh in two
It was selected as one of the top 10 business plans in a
competition conducted by the Hass School of Business, University
of California, Berkeley.
(Prantick Majumder can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)