Visually impaired professor Sanjeev Sonawane from Maharashtra on Friday bagged the Helen Keller Award in the “role model supporter of increased employment opportunities for disabled persons” category. Along with Sonawane, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People and Mindtree recognised the contributions of 12 individuals in the field of employment and the holistic development of the differently-abled. The awards were handed over at a event in Delhi a day before the World Disability Day.

Professor Sonawane has developed a university education model that help bring students with disabilities to the mainstream. More than 300 students have already benefited from his educational programmes and over 40 people are now working in the government and private sector. He has also been able to churn out two entrepreneurs, reported PTI.

Sonawane, who is head of education and extension department at Savitribai Phule Pune University, had set up the Advance Technology Blind Student’s Learning Centre in 2008. “Enrolment of persons with disabilities in colleges has increased significantly because of the support of this centre,” Javed Abidi, director of NCPEDP told Hindustan Times.

Apart from Sonawane, Jasmer Singh Saini was also recognised for providing placement to 400 differently-abled by organising 16 job fairs and setting up a vocational training centre in Chandigarh. The other awardees include wheelchair-bound Deepa Narsimhan who played a pivotal role in setting up the India chapter of Disability Empowerment Resource Group and visually impaired Pratik Rajiv Jindal who is a business consultant with Wipro and champions the cause of inclusion of the differently-abled in the corporate set-up.

Of the 12 awardees, seven were from Bengaluru. Two were from Mumbai and one each from Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune, reported The Hindu. The Helen Keller Awards was started in 1999. The main aim was to start a discourse on equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the field of employment.