You meet a very few people who completely shake your thinking and show you what life is meant to be. All can exist but only a few do what we call ‘lead a meaningful and fulfilling life’. One such person I connected with recently is Ms. Virali Modi. I was keen on having her inspirational story on this platform and I spoke to her expressing my wish. She was very forthcoming, someone who is driven by a purpose and has a very clear vision. IWH in conversation with the lady who wears many hats with elan. She is a model, a motivational speaker and Disability Rights Activist. She is a changemaker at Enable Travel and she’s also a youth ambassador.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Virali Modi: I was born in Mumbai but at two months old, I shifted to the US with my parents where I was raised in Pennsylvania for the majority of my life. I was an excellent student, always topping the class and I was involved in many extra curriculars like dancing, sports, music, and even debate team. When I was 14 years old, in 2006, I went to modeling and acting school called Barbizon where I was selected to be the brand ambassador of a famous soft drink company. It was a happy moment, but the day that I had to go sign the contract, I got sick and had to be rushed to the hospital.
After becoming disabled, I was socially isolated for the initial four years. I had gone into depression and even tried committing suicide twice because my friends and family didn’t want to talk to me or be around me. At that time, I did homeschooling and studied up until my 12th. I opted out of going to college because I shifted to Mumbai in 2008.
(Here’s the link of her survival story, a story that anyone can take a leaf out of, story of an inspirational and incredible lady: https://www.quora.com/What-does-it-feel-like-to-survive-death/answers/3251986?ch=10&share=3495c138&srid=p3Eb )
IWH: What is your current role?
Virali Modi: Currently I’m working as the Youth Expert for Enable Travel, India’s Premier Accessible Holiday Specialist. I am also a motivational speaker, disability rights activist, writer, model, and aspiring actress.
IWH: What made you select your career/ vocation? Was it easy making that decision?
Virali Modi: I think I’ve always spoken about disability and trying to spread awareness. I’ve always been one to stand up for the “voiceless”. I think it was probably the easiest decision I’ve made in my life.
IWH: How has your professional journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Virali Modi: Working for Enable Travel, being a motivational speaker, a disability rights activist, and being a writer has been amazing.
I’ve experienced so much because of Enable Travel and met so many different types of people. Plus trying to get the disabled to travel (which is one of my favorite things) has been amazing. We’ve successfully created different experiences for the disabled – like accessible bowling for instance. Something that I’ve also started is a campaign called #RampMyRestaurant, in association with Enable Travel. We’re telling restaurants PAN India to ramp up. We’ve successfully made two restaurants accessible in Mumbai – Toit Bar and Brewery in Lower Parel and Ambrosia in Marol.
Unfortunately, it’s taken time because most restaurateurs don’t think it’s necessary to have a ramp because, and I quote, “Madam, people like YOU (persons with disabilities) don’t come here, so why should we have a ramp?” This is the ugly mindset. What they fail to realize is that if they had a ramp, people having locomotor disabilities would come.
When it comes to modeling and acting, it’s been a tough journey because models/actresses with disabilities aren’t preferred. That basically sums it up.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Virali Modi: My mother and father have been my mentors from the start, they’ve helped me realize that my disability doesn’t define me. They’ve always taught me self love and they’ve been my biggest fans, cheerleaders, and support.
Someone else that’s helped me along the way is Bipasha Basu because she’s an advocate of self love as well. When she entered the industry, she was this beautiful dusky Bengali woman, which was unheard of. She owned it and broke a lot of barriers and shattered the stigma around dusky skin. That was inspirational for me.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Virali Modi: There are so many amazing moments but these top the list.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman with disabilities? How did you deal with them?
Virali Modi: I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced is the lack of awareness which leads to the lack of positive mentality regarding disability. People stare at me when I go out in the public, they don’t know how to talk to me, or behave around me. Usually, I’d just break the ice and then it’s all good from there.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Virali Modi: I don’t think I’d change anything about my life or my career. I’m in love with what I do and I’m happy doing it.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Virali Modi: I think it’s wonderful! Women are powerhouses and having a network of powerful and likeminded women is crucial.
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students- especially the ones with disabilities.
Virali Modi: Regardless of having a disability, I think my biggest advice is to never give up. Keep fighting for what you believe in, be strong, and be determined. No one is going to fight for you, you need to stand up and fight for yourself.
IWH: You are a torchbearer for many social reforms and you have brought about many noteworthy changes. What is your latest mission? What way can the general public contribute towards it?
Virali Modi: My latest mission is #RampMyRestaurant in association with Enable Travel. I’m petitioning all the restaurants in India to ramp up! I think the biggest help is to constantly tell the management at a particular restaurant that is not accessible, is to provide a ramp.
IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers?
Virali Modi: Nope! (Was all she said indicating someone who is to the point and doesn’t believe in beating around the bush)
What a great conversation we had with this lovely lady. I am so inspired to be a part of her mission. Lets all join hands and lets pledge in our own capacities; to make this place better for people with disabilities. What is so basic to us, they have to fight it out and that’s not fair at all. They say if there’s a will there’s a way; she has not just that will but it’s backed with a strong will power too! ….. and we say more power to her.