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Meet India’s First Female Disabled Stand-up Comedian Nidhi Goyal, Breaking Barriers Through Humour

From being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive degenerative eye disorder that mostly renders one blind at the age of 15 to fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities, here is the journey of Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi was around 15-year-old when she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive degenerative eye disorder that mostly renders one blind. She spent her teenage years, unraveling her disability and within four to five years of diagnosis, Ms. Goyal had lost complete vision. This was when Nidhi had to forgo her dream of becoming a portrait painter, something she had been working towards since she was four.

With the support of her family, Nidhi was able to complete her education and attained a Master's degree alongside a Diploma in Human Resource Management. She also secured a Post-Graduate degree in Communication Media.

After her education, Nidhi went on to work as an intern with media houses and later worked as a journalist, writer, and translator. In 2011 she started her activism journey by voicing for the rights of people with disability. This was followed by a comedy debut in December 2015.

"Hi, I am Nidhi Goyal and I am blind, but so is love, maybe we should get over it". That's how Nidhi Goyal, India's first female disabled stand-up comedian introduces herself to overcome the awkwardness that sets in when she walks on a stage. She uses comedy to challenge existing stigmas around disabilities and gender.

Recalling her debut performance, Nidhi said, "People were so uncomfortable for the first two to three minutes that they forgot that I am a comic. They only kept looking at my disability. At the end of the performance, a woman came up to me and said, I was laughing and falling off my chair but also cringing thinking, 'Oh my god, I do this to people with disabilities'."

But one thing that followed her through all stages of life was the discrimination because of her blindness. For instance, once an airline denied assisting her during an eight-hour layover. When Ms Goyal decided to go to a cafe and grab a cup of coffee on her own or use a washroom, her passport was taken away.

In 2017, Ms. Goyal started her non-profit organisation Rising Flame through which she and her team are working for the recognition, protection, and promotion of human rights of people with disabilities, particularly women and youth with disabilities.

The disabled-feminist activist is on the diversity and inclusion task force of FICCI, and sits on the advisory board of Voice, a grant making project by the Dutch ministry. She has been a global advisor to UN Women's Executive Director and worked with a range of national and global women's rights, disability rights, and human rights organisations.

Ms Goyal believes the mindset of the people is a big challenge when it comes to leaving no one behind and ensuring inclusion. She is of the opinion that at some point, society is fine with people with disabilities existing, getting educated and employed but not okay with them having "normal" experiences like getting married and being a mother. We have removed people with disabilities from the category "normal", she said.

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