The disabled worker with big ambitions
When Priyantha Rathnayake started working at Aitken Spence in 1998, under the government-sponsored Tharuna Aruna scheme offering skills development training, he was employed as a Telephone Operator and General Clerk in Human Resource Development. As a legally-blind member of society who could not write his name, Priyantha was not expected to tackle tasks beyond answering calls and making photocopies. Ten years later Priyantha has become a sub assistant in the Human Resources Division where he is writing and receiving emails in two languages, as well as helping his department in a number of key logistical areas that includes the organization of training sessions.
‘Just like able-bodied people,’ Priyantha explains, ‘people with disabilities wish to test their capabilities. I am no exception in this regard.’
Priyantha’s strength of character has always been evident. After he was diagnosed, aged 18 months, with cataracts, his parents felt surgery would render him totally blind and so they opted not to have him treated. However, even with only partial sight, the young Priyantha was determined to receive as normal an education as was possible.
Not content with obtaining impressive Ordinary and Advanced Level results from school, Priyantha applied to the University of Colombo where he completed a degree in Political Science, the only person in his batch to use Braille. A member of the National Chess Association and leader of his college debating team, Priyantha is clearly a man who enjoys stretching his own potential and getting the most out of life.
‘I am very happy working here and grateful for the opportunities I have been given,’ he says with a smile. ‘I get treated like any other member of the office. We are more like a family, sharing in one another’s disappointments and triumphs.’
Since joining Aitken Spence, Priyantha has had some personal triumphs of his own. Several years ago, he married Sunethra and they are the proud parents of Saumya Sathsarani. The family live in the house they have built together.
‘I think it is important to take responsibility for your own actions in life,’ he explains. ‘If you are prepared to work hard, it is possible to make things happen.’
Such a positive outlook has won the admiration of many people within Aitken Spence. It has also inspired other disabled people working in the company to set higher standards for themselves.
2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I