Shilpi Kapoor, Managing Director – BarrierBreak
A self-taught technologist and an Ashoka fellow, Shilpi Kapoor started her journey way back in 1995, teaching computers to visually impaired students at her residence. Shilpi founded BarrierBreak which focuses on Accessibility & Assistive Technology that empowers people with disabilities (www.barrierbreak.com). This was her way of bringing together 3 key things, 1) Can we hire people with disabilities, 2) Can we use technology to empower them, 3) Can we move away from charity and make this a sustainable model.
As Managing Director of BarrierBreak, her vision, in her own words, has been to ‘break the barriers of disabilities using technology’. With an industry experience of 18 years in the field of accessibility, she has been instrumental in bringing about revolutionary changes in the lives of people with disabilities through her innovative ideas and initiatives.
With a BA in Sociology from St. Xavier’s College, Shilpi specialised in networking and security of network systems consulting for organisations in India and the US. A turning point in her career was when she realised that her US-based boss, with whom she used to transact only online, was paralysed. She had known him for so long, never realised he had some disability, because he was so independent. That made her think about how she could use technology to benefit people with disabilities. Since then, she has not looked back and has made remarkable contributions to the community of persons with disabilities in India.
At BarrierBreak, Shilpi has always believed in giving gainful employment opportunities to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) rather than sympathising with them. She is building an eco-system in India that enables them to fulfil their rights. Shilpi is empowering Disabled People Organization by conducting information and communication technologies related to training on policy & implementation along with their partner G3ICT (the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies).
Shilpi has contributed to various accessibility policies as an expert such as National Policy for Universal Electronic Accessibility, India and the Model Policy for Inclusive in Education for Persons with Disabilities at UNESCO. Her work has fetched the Shell Helen Keller 2008 award on the eve of World Disability Day. Her interests include cooking, photography and she loves travelling & learning about cuisines round the world. She aspires to have another startup in the food space some day.
High point in career
“The high point in my career was when we finally bought back the equity stake of the venture capitalist. It was an important point in being able to prove that BarrierBreak could be beyond charity. We had managed to prove that BarrierBreak could be a viable and profitable business model.
I am also proud of the fact that at BarrierBreak, I have always believed in giving employment opportunities to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) rather than looking at them as a dependent segment of our society. My staff comprises more than 75% of such people, and I need to walk the talk to ensure that more and more people benefit from the same.”
Most challenging assignment so far
“The most challenging assignment so far has been working with the government of India to ensure that they understand the need, importance and how accessible websites & ICT has to be implemented in India. It is an on-going battle, where we have had some great wins like the National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility & the Guideline for Indian Government Websites.”
“I think 3 people are my inspiration, my grand-dad, mom and dad. My grand-dad because he was a risk taker, but he stood by his family like a rock. He never tired of trying new ideas that others thought might not be successful and went with his intuition. My mom & dad together always backed me in my ideas. Even when I failed, they always believed in me. They are progressive and have learnt to adapt with the times and given me the space to find myself. It has been liberating to have parents, who just stand by you!”
Most important milestone in life
“One milestone that makes me happy was the day I founded BarrierBreak. Through all its ups and downs, it has been a pillar for me. Walking into BarrierBreak’s office and seeing our staff including people with disabilities working together, supporting each other and making a difference in the lives of disabled people all around the world with what we do, is a high. However, I also feel that with 1 billion people in the world with disabilities and the ever-growing aging population, it is time to make more noise.
Whether it is a wearable technology that lets you control your house, a spoon that controls your tremors and lets you eat comfortably or an easy wear wrap around zipper shoe that allows you to do an everyday ask independently, all these innovations need to be recognized, shared and celebrated and made available to those who need them! So in 2015, we created a platform called Global Elevate Awards, by which we would like to celebrate these accessible ideas, products and solutions! Techshare 2016 will see the first Global Elevate Awards being given to accessible technologies from all over the world.”
Women are referred to as “the better halves”. What does it mean to you?
“I believe I am not a half. I am complete. I hope we have moved beyond this. Personally I know I have. It is great to have people around you who support you but I believe we are whole and complete in ourselves.”