Shubhankar Jain and his autistic brother Paras were on a flight two years ago when a passenger suddenly approached them and asked Jain’s brother to stop kicking the back of his seat. Despite attempts to explain to the passenger that Paras had a developmental disability, the passenger warned that he would take up the issue with the captain if he were to be bothered by Paras once more.
“We were fortunate enough that the person sitting next to the individual was kind and had experience with individuals with autism. That person switched seats,” Jain, a junior at Cupertino High School, in Cupertino, Calif., told India-West recently.
Stories and misunderstandings like these are what inspired Jain to take an active role in the community and help dispel myths about individuals with disabilities.
Four months ago, the teenager launched an online platform and nonprofit to educate the larger community about individuals with disabilities such as autism.
“People have attitudinal barriers against individuals with developmental disabilities. I feel like it’s almost discriminatory in some cases,” said Jain.
The nonprofit, WorldWeDream, seeks to empower disabled individuals through the art of storytelling, video resumes and community involvement and integration.
“There are a lot of programs that help people with disabilities overcome limitations. But if you think about it, the limitations often come from society. It’s necessary to focus on that root problem and first teach the community and make them aware,” Jain told India-West.
The Web site features a “Stories” and “Video Resumes” tab that gives individuals the opportunity to view stories from all over the world that show ways in which individuals have been positively impacted by individuals with disabilities. It has already generated traffic from over 35 countries, including an overwhelming response from India, Jain said.
“We ask people in the community to write about a positive experience with a person with disabilities and how that experience has shaped their lives or inspired them to do something,” said the Indian American student.
Jain believes that stories are effective learning tools that allow the community to engage and better understand the many challenges faced by individuals with disabilities.
Team members of WorldWeDream are located in various parts of the globe like India. Neeraj Agarwal, founder of inkthemes.com, serves as the nonprofit’s chief of technology. Countless other individuals serve as story editors and advisors.
The Web site’s “Video Resumes” tab helps disabled individuals market themselves and share their stories through multimedia to increase their visibility and help employers make a holistic decision during the hiring process. The nonprofit partners with Ascent Employment Agency, a nonprofit agency that assists the disabled enhance their job prospects.
“The video resume allows an employer or an HR person to see what the person can accomplish and the tasks needed for that specific job,” explained Jain.
Some of the common misconceptions that the nonprofit aims to dispel are the fact that individuals can’t be trained to perform as well as those without a disability and the idea that individuals with disabilities are limited and not able to participate in everyday activities.
Jain told India-West that the main goal of WorldWeDream is to focus on educating the community about individuals with disabilities and developmental disabilities, and create a forum that allows individuals to showcase their skills and talents, rather than their limitations.
To spread awareness about his nonprofit, Jain has contacted organizations and community centers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and makes monthly presentations every second Friday at the Grace Community Center in San Jose.
He has also contacted Abilities United in Palo Alto to educate the community about equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Jain hopes to expand WorldWeDream by collaborating with the city of San Jose during Disability Awareness Day and creating a booklet containing stories gathered from contributors to WorldWeDream. Jain also hopes to launch a mentoring program where community members can actively participate and mentor individuals with disabilities, especially those with acquired disabilities, to overcome barriers.