Features Friday, July 17, 2015 - 05:30
  For a society like India’s, there is no dearth of clients for the business of matrimony. From well-establishedmarriage portals to the more recent suave dating apps catering to every caste, class, profession and religion, there is something for everyone. Or so it seems. Two young women in their early twenties are now catering to the needs of a huge chunk of people who have simply been ignored by all of these established firms – persons with disability. They’ve turned the idea of “disability” on to its head and come up with an app they’ve called, quite assertively, “Loveability”. Started last year, Kalyani Khona set up a company called “Wanted Umbrella” to play cupid to people with disabilities. Over a year later, Khona, along with her business partner, Ishita Anil, have been breaching unconquered terroritories. Kalyani Khona and Ishita Anil Just a year out of college, 22-year-old Kalyani, the founder of the firm says that before the launch, she did some research. “When I enquired with famous matrimonial sites, their offline-chapters, they told me to that they had no time to handle the profile of a differently-abled person, she says. This was almost an indirect way to say that persons with disabilities could not get married. “Nobody should be telling anyone that they shouldn’t get married,” she says. India currently has around 90 million people with various kinds of disabilities, and according to Kalyani, less than five percent of them are married. Within six months of launching last July, Wanted Umbrella received 1000 applications from 20 cities across India registered with. Of them , 110 members were registered. Enthused by the response, she and her business partner Ishita came up with the idea of “Loveability”, a matchmaking app exclusively for the disabled. They say they need Rs 5 lakh to meet expenses, and opted for crowd funding. So far, they have managed to collect Rs 4 lakh, and hope to obtain the rest by August 5. “It’s an all-or-nothing campaign. If we don’t get the amount, it goes back to the backers,” says Kalyani. Although Kalyani has been manually registering people through her site since last year, the idea of “Lovability” struck like gold because when compared to manual matches, the idea of an app would enable more people to connect. The pair want to build Lovability as an app that caters to people with a wide range of disabilities while ensuring privacy as a core feature. Unlike other matrimonial websites, profile information for disabled people need to include a lot more personal data like a medication, their lifestyle and more, she says. “When I interacted with disabled people, I found that at least 40 percent of them were socially awkward. That’s where I stepped in and helped them,” she says.  Here’s a prototype of the app with basic features Having helped many people find partners since she launched Wanted Umbrella, Kalyani notices that her clients tend to gravitate towards people with whom they have things in common, for someone who will understand them. “It’s not looks, or a family that plays a role in people’s choices. Most times these people connect on a more intellectual level. It also depends on where they are coming from,” she says. For instance, she says that a man who is not disabled registered with the service, and specifically asked for a partner who was visually impaired. When she enquired, she learned that since his parents were both visually impaired, he preferred someone from a similar background who would be able to understand and be comfortable in the situation. Though the idea came along over the course of a year, Kalyani says one of her main inspirations has been Preeti Monga, the Director of Silver Lining, a non-profit group that works with disabled people. “She broke all the taboos all in one go,” Kalyani says with admiration. Visually impaired from the age of six, Preeti has been married thrice. “She’s gotten married to a non-disabled man who is much younger than her,” Kalyani says, adding that Preeti was also the author of a book “The Other Senses: An Inspiring True Story of a visually impaired woman and her path to success”. For a 22-year-old with no prior corporate working experience, Kalyani has a clear vision of what she wants to do. The company now has a five-year plan to hit the one billion user mark for their Lovability app in the next five years. The agency plans to go international considering that nothing similar to “Lovability” exists in the international market. If there are 100 types of disabilities in one country, it means they exist everywhere else too, she says. “The disabled community may be in minority but they are the largest minority in the world,” she says. It’s not just “Lovability” that’s on the cards. The agency also runs “Social Spaces”, a brain-child of her partner, Ishita Anil which aims to create a social platform for the disabled. The idea is to tackle the lack of recreational spots for people with disabilities and allow the growth of spaces where people can meet and experience fun events together.