Published: 17th November 2022
Wheeling Away, a book by Hasitha Illa and Saakshi Singla, urges children to understand disability
The book by debut author and motivational speaker revolves around being allies to people with special needs
When a person turns their disability into their strength, they can achieve so much and that is exactly what this particular debut author did. Hasitha Illa has a neurological condition Friedreich’s Ataxia (which primarily affects the nerves and muscles causing a loss of control of body movements) and she has turned her condition into her biggest strength. As she says on her social media, “why fit in when you were born to stand out!”
While it was not easy for Hasitha Illa to fit in, she has dedicated her life to proving that she can stand out from the crowd and will not let her disability stop her in any way. She has dedicated her life to creating awareness about societal issues, discrimination and problems with infrastructure for the disabled community. She also runs a campaign #WeSupportTheRare with a focus on supporting specially-abled people. Drawing from her life experiences, with various other accolades, she is now the author of the book Wheeling Away, which has just hit the market.
To make Wheeling Away happen, Hasitha, who is currently based in the US, joined hands with parenting coach Saakshi Singla and indeed, whoever reads the book, will surely learn more about inclusivity and acceptance. In a tête-à-tête with Hasitha, we find out more about the book. Excerpts from a conversation.
When did you decide to write the book? When did you begin and how long did it take?
We decided to write this book a year back, when I was in India, and we have finally published it recently. Thanks to COVID, it has become easier to connect virtually and start selling these books online! I am currently in the USA, all the way across the world, but it never felt that I was so far while doing this project!
Who is the co-author Saakshi Singla? How did you meet her? Why did you decide to write the book with her?
Saakshi is a parenting coach who counsels parents across India. We met during an Instagram Live session and she had this mission that disability should be taught through parents to their children. I also have a similar passion for bringing about disability awareness and it needs to begin at home with kids. Our mission and thoughts matched so well that we had to collaborate together and today it is known as Wheeling Away!
How much of the book is drawn from instances you have experienced in real life?
Almost 90% of books happened to me in real life. It is so real that one of my best friends has said that this seems like her story, not Aarav's! So, many people with disabilities can relate to this story as it is so common to all of us. But finding a friend like Aarav is so rare and once you do, it just adds so much happiness. Our mission is to make more people aware, just like Aarav!
Tell us a little about Aarav and his story.
Aarav is an army child who is constantly transferred from one school to anther due to his dad's postings. Aarav loves to make friends and is creative. His dad is posted at a new station and Aarav is enrolled in a new school. The story revolves around the unique friendship of Aarav and his new friend, Naina, where Aarav's perspectives drastically shift. He starts learning about people with disabilities and their struggles which could be internal with other people or with regards to inaccessibility. At the end of the day, Aarav learns how to be a better Ally!
How can we be better allies to people with disabilities?
Treating people with disabilities as any other human is the way to go! People always ask me how I approach a person with a disability. Do it the same way you would approach anyone else. Also, I like it when people take the time to get to know me instead of my medical history. The list goes on and on and I talk more about it via my Instagram handle, @lifewithhasi
As for kids, the book can be purchased online! Having this book in your home library and learning from this story will shape an inclusive India! Along with the story it also has tips targeted towards parents to teach their kids. Get your copy now!
Is the infrastructure in educational institutions suitable for people with disabilities? Are we getting closer to having inclusive spaces?
No. Most colleges are not built for disabled people and that is the main reason many end up not studying. Mine was luckily accessible and I made such awesome friends. India still has a long way to go in becoming inclusive and this book is just the beginning. India still lacks awareness about disability and we are just playing our part in ushering in an inclusive India.
What next for you?
In terms of this book, I want to be able to make these available in schools because I feel this education is very much needed. We have a series planned and hopefully, I will be able to publish them in the future. As for my career, I want to restart my motivational speaking career. I have done a lot in the past — schools, corporates, events and one with Shankar Mahadevan as well! I am just looking for the right opportunities.
You can buy the book here notionpress.com/read/wheeling-away