A Kerala collective that empowers the differently abled

With umbrella production, pen & paper manufacturing, Umbrella by the Differently Abled has given a newfound hope to people with special needs

Published: 23rd July 2023 01:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd July 2023 01:50 PM   |  A+A-

Shaji M G

Shaji M G (Photo | Express)

Express News Service

KOLLAM: Shaji M G was a welding worker in his native Adoor. His life took a tragic turn in 1998 when an accident at his shop left him with severe injuries to the spine, rendering him paralysed. For the next 24 years, Shaji was confined to his tiny bedroom, as he grappled with a sense of isolation and the feeling of being a burden on his loved ones. 

But 2019 brought with it a newfound hope after he joined ‘Umbrella by the Differently Abled’ — a remarkable collective of individuals with disabilities. The initiative aims to provide livelihood opportunities to people with severe disabilities. It began in 2015 when Kiran Kumar (name changed), a government school teacher in Kollam, started a WhatsApp group to support individuals with severe disabilities, empowering them through umbrella production and pen and paper manufacturing.

“I had spent 24 years of my life in my bedroom. Three years ago, I came across the ‘Umbrella by the Differently Abled’ collective. Its members trained me in the making of umbrellas, pens and paper. The earnings help cover my medical and day-to-day expenses. Earlier, every minute was a struggle; I felt alone and useless. But once I became part of the group, my life completely changed. Now I am a busy person, with important things to do. Being part of the group helped me realise that there are people just like me out there, and I felt that we could help each other through our difficulties,” says Shaji, with a warm smile.

An ‘Umbrella by the Differently Abled’ member at work

Renjini S, a 33-year-old member, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) when she was just eight years old.

“Due to my condition, I had to drop out of school in third grade. My dream was to become an independent woman, and through this initiative, I am now earning enough to fulfil my needs without having to rely on anyone else,” Renjini, who joined the group seven years ago, told TNIE. 

‘Umbrella by the Differently Abled’ currently has 70 members in all 14 districts of the state. Its products have been marketed and sold nationwide through social-media platforms. The idea of the WhatsApp group stemmed from Kiran’s concern for friends and acquaintances who had suffered accidents that left them completely paralysed. This ignited a passion to create a platform for people with severe disabilities. 

“We initially provide members with materials for making umbrellas, pens and paper. Once they become skilled, we will support them by marketing their products through our Facebook page. We want to provide opportunities for disabled individuals to live dignified lives,” he adds.


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