World Disability Day Special | Anuraag Khandelwal: There are only ThisAbled people in the world

03 Dec,2019

Your journey from a polio patient to Executive Creative Director and Creative Head of the Ogilvy Group’s 82.5 Communications has been very inspirational. Could you tell us a little bit about your early days?

When I was eight months old, I got a polio attack. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, the disease stayed with me and I became a polio patient. Since then I have only walked with crutches. But my parents took great pains to ensure I have a normal life. My mom and dad were very clear that they wanted to put me in a regular school. If I had been put in a special school for the physically challenged, I am sure I would not have been where I am today.

How did your professional career start?
I studied at the Raheja School of Art in Mumbai for five years. My basic background is in art direction. In my last year of college, I was offered a job by Elsie Nanji of Ambience. It was thrilling to get my first job without actually applying for it! I later learnt it was Freddy Birdy who actually looked at my work and asked Elsie to hire me. While at Ambience, I met Rajiv Rao. He was then in the process of leaving to work at Ogilvy. He made the transition and then got me in. That was in the year 2000. I have been in Ogilvy ever since.


How was it at work when you joined Ogilvy?
Work was amazing. Actually I think Ogilvy has been the most democratic place I have experienced. Initially I think people didn’t know how to behave with me – for example, I’m holding my crutches as I am walking and I meet you for the first time. You will not know whether to shake hands or say namaste. People are unsure whether I can shake hands because my hands are on the crutches. Not many people know how to behave when they meet a physically challenged person.

How did you overcome the pressure of the extra attention that you keep receiving because of this?
First of all, I think Ogilvy really didn’t care two hoots about my physical state, whether I was disabled or walking with crutches. Everybody was equal and everybody was treated equally. There was nothing that made me awkward or embarrassed about my physical disabilities. Everybody was normal.

Has the fact that you are a person with a disability helped your colleagues and people around you become more sensitive towards people with special needs?
100% yes. For reasons unknown, people tend to think persons with disabilities are helpless and nice! I think the way my nature is I am a bit of a villain. In office, colleagues and friends  know that I am no ‘yes’ guy. I am also quite outspoken and don’t mince words. So from that perspective, people around me have learnt that handicapped people are normal people who behave just like anyone else does. I have made my point very clear that don’t treat a handicapped person like some helpless guy. Treat them like normal people.

Is there a word for others with disability? How should they overcome their concerns and forge ahead in their careers.

Look I think they have to keep an open mind. I think there will be challenges. Not everybody will be lucky to have my experience. But it depends primarily on how they perceive themselves and then of course how they promote themselves. The biggest and most important part is that they have to perceive themselves as somebody who is creative and not a “disabled” creative. It has to be on merit. They cannot come expecting that because they are disabled, they should get special treatment and their job will get done. If they come with that attitude then they will not get anywhere. Their attitude should be “I am creative. My ideas are superb. I can make a difference in brands.” Then nobody will look at the disability. People are open. That I know for a fact. They are willing to look beyond disabilities if you have something to give. You have to have something to give. Disability can’t be your USP.



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