Sristi (pictured), a blind dancer from Nepal, is challenging society’s perceptions by teaching dance to blind and partially sighted people worldwide.
When Sristi was a young girl in Nepal, she had a complication with her eyes which led to her developing glaucoma by the age of 14. By the age of 16, she was completely blind.
Sristi was able to finish school just before she lost her sight, but no one expected her to continue studying. People didn’t think she was worth the investment and thought she wouldn’t be productive enough. But something deep down inside her told her that her life wasn’t going to go down that path: “I’m blind, but not stupid”, she said.
Her mum was unjustly blamed by some of their family and friends for what had happened, and all Sristi dreamt of was making her proud and changing her tears into a big smile. So she decided to proactively change the situation around her and challenge what everyone else thought they knew about her disability.
Sristi decided to apply to college. For a while she struggled to get admission; they thought she was too much of a risk and that teaching her would be time consuming. But her persistence paid off and eventually she was accepted into public college.
She didn’t know how to read braille or to use a computer, so instead recorded all her lectures in class on a tape recorder. When she was given a written handout, Sristi would get friends and family to read it aloud to her outside of class and she would record them. She completed assignments by handwriting on a wooden material she designed, even though she couldn’t see what she was writing.
Not only did Sristi successfully graduate from university, she also received a gold medal for achieving top marks nationwide.
Afterwards, Sristi decided she wanted to work in the community again, so she decided to go on a kanthari course in India that taught her how to run a social venture and make an impact with marginalised groups.
In 2012, Sristi started an organisation called Blind Rocks, which aims to empower blind and partially sighted people through dance and other workshops on fashion, interpersonal skills and sports. She spent the following two years travelling the world conducting these classes.
Sristi began to realise what a significant impact her lessons were having on the lives of people who attended, so she decided to learn more about dance and applied for university. (Specifically, a Choreomundus Master Program in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage, which is a Joint Masters Degree program from four different universities across Europe.)
Sristi was accepted, and they viewed her visual impairment as an opportunity, not a problem. She was the only blind student in her class, so although there were a lot of videos shown in lessons initially, teachers quickly adapted and allowed Sristi to do role play and touch their legs and arms when demonstrating to help her gain an understanding of the movement.
Those two years were difficult for Sristi as she struggled to integrate among her classmates, but she persevered and graduated at the end of last month.
Sristi is now keen to get back into the community and continue to expand on her work, adding to Blind Rocks branches that have already been set up in Spain and the UK.
She dreams of starting an international school for the blind where students can learn dance, art and fashion. Sristi sees the arts as a tool for social change and wants to connect people around the world and share ideas to promote accessibility.
“People tell us we’re disabled, but it’s only because they designed things this way.”