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31.05.2022 By Sena Pottackal, Junior Associate and Disability Advocate

Driven by Collectivism.

This is a picture of my immediate family. From left to right, it is me; my brother Joseph Pottackal; my dad Joe Pottackal; my mom Selin Pottackal; and my sister Lisha Pottackal. The men are wearing suits, and the women are wearing traditional Indian clothing. My sister and I are wearing pink and gold churidars, and my mom is wearing a black, blue, and gold saree.

In the early 1980s my parents immigrated from India, making me a first-generation Indian American woman. Like many Indian families, collectivism is a central tenet in our family’s culture. Collectivism is the practice of prioritizing the needs of the community over the needs of the individual. Therefore, the principle of collectivism has deeply impacted how my family interacts with each other and the world.

Throughout my childhood, my immediate family traveled to India every few years to visit our extended family. When I was six, we went on one of these family vacations and my father and I had a conversation about privilege and civic responsibility, which profoundly influenced my personal development. Specifically, he took me for a walk where we encountered children around my age who were begging for money to buy food. He told me I was lucky to have been born in the United States to parents with the ability to care for me and informed me I have a responsibility to leverage these advantages in service of others. As a result, I spent years trying to discover my skills and identify how to use them in service of others.

As a teenager, I lost much of my eyesight and eventually acquired the mental clarity to recognize my skills. During high school, I saw my cousin’s documentary about a shelter in India, which she created to generate awareness and raise money for the critical role it played in the community. I was inspired by her activism and motivated to support her altruistic endeavor, so I started a club to raise money for this shelter. Although we only raised a few hundred dollars, this experience was invaluable. Not only did it illuminate my communication skills, but it demonstrated how effective communications can manifest positive social change.

After obtaining a communications degree and before pursuing graduate school, I took a gap year to attend a blind training center. I participated in this program as a precaution in case I lost my remaining eyesight from a degenerative eye condition. While there, I mentored blind youth. During our discussions, I framed post-secondary education and gainful employment as realistic and achievable aspirations for them. These conversations persuaded these youth and their parents to raise their expectations regarding what is possible for blind people. These interactions also helped me realize I wanted to use my voice to empower people with disabilities and educate others about how we can collaboratively build a more disability inclusive world.

In retrospect, my father was right. I am immensely lucky because I live in a country that enabled me to pursue my education as a blind woman. This is an opportunity denied to other individuals, who share my identity in various parts of the world. Additionally, I am equally fortunate to have parents who believed in my abilities and sacrificed much to enable my success. For example, my father returned to the workforce after his retirement primarily to finance my graduate education. Thanks to this investment in my future, I received an opportunity to conduct graduate research about disability inclusive communications, and this experience led me to my present job at Current Global.

Now, I am working at a transformative company and supporting the Accessible Communications movement. Together, we are catalyzing positive social change by leveraging our communication skills to educate others about accessible communications. Through this work, we are making our industry more disability inclusive. Although it took a few decades, I eventually found my way, and I was led there by my family’s collectivism beliefs and actions.

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