Saturday 15 December, 2018

Shamla Maharaj creates a "unique" space for the differently abled

The differently abled community is one of the most underrepresented and misunderstood in Trinidad and Tobago. However, one woman is spearheading her own space that gives them a voice.

Shamla Maharaj, who has cerebral palsy, is the host of "Unique Not Different", a segment on TTT's live morning show which serves as a platform that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of the differently abled of Trinidad and Tobago.

While there may be a perception that people with special needs are limited, Shamla has proven many times over that people within the community are quite capable of accomplishing plenty and then some. She told Loop that for her, being differently abled doesn't mean she's different. "I try to live a normal life and do things like anyone else would do as much as possible. I don’t put out the personality that I’m different." 

Holding a Master’s Degree in Marketing and Agribusiness and currently pursuing her Ph.D., Shamla is the founder of AbNormal Progress, is a social inclusion consultant, an author, coach, as well as an international keynote speaker.

Hosting her own segment is quite the feat, considering the fact that she originally started out as a guest on the network. While attending a youth caucus as a guest speaker in August, she was invited by Chevening Scholar and Queen's Young Leader recipient Teocah Dove to be a guest on the network's live morning show.

Shamla admitted to second-guessing herself and whether she should do it.

“I was hesitant…I’d had a bad year and wasn’t sure if I could do it. But at the last minute, I agreed to do it. I like to accept things and see where it takes me.”

And take her it did. 

Her interview quickly went viral on Facebook, amassing over 65,000 views and over 1,000 shares. Her presence clearly made an impact as she was asked to return—this time to host her own segment on the show. The segment "Unique Not Different", was created for her where, once a week, she interviews persons with disabilities who are, contributing and impacting on society.

Sharing screen time with the internationally renowned media giant Lisa Wickham isn't a raw deal either. 

"Lisa allowed me to take control, get my own guests, ask my own questions, do what I have to do. She believed that I can host something,” she said with a laugh. 

The segment is giving voice to a community in a way that's never been done before in Trinidad and Tobago. "When I spoke with Teocah, I told her that this is a revolution in Trinidad. You don’t see persons with disabilities mainstreaming anywhere and now we have our own platform during a prime-time morning show," Shamla said.

“People don’t understand….they don’t understand that people with disabilities are just like everyone else, hence why people use derogatory words to describe us. The only way to get past that is to make it mainstream. We don’t have the opportunity to do…things to become mainstream. And that needs to happen more so people can see that we are just like them."

‘Unique Not Different’ may be the first step in doing that. “People who don’t know me…they’re just happy to have a segment like that,” she said. They may have a relative who’s disabled and watching the show…they see it as an opportunity for them.

"They can see themselves."

When asked what plans she has for her segment, Shamla told us, "I’m hoping that it will flourish into something else. I want it to be that we don’t focus only on people's disabilities. My personal goal is to show them that they can live a life in such a way where people don’t look at you as having a disability first but see you as an executive or someone contributing to the corporate world, just like everyone else.”

 

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