Vision To Achieve Dreams

Persons with vision impairment are as normal as those with eyesight. They have similar aspirations, abilities and desire to learn as any other person. The only thing that differentiates them from the ‘sighted’ is their lack of visual interaction with people, things and the overall environment. However there are other ways they can use to engage.  What they also lack is an accessible environment and encouraging attitude from people around them. Going through school, college and later securing a job becomes doubly challenging for blind people if their abilities are discounted simply because of their inability to see.

Inas Martis is a 25 year old student of 2nd year, pursuing B. Com from a mainstream college in Alibag, Maharashtra. He was born blind but his family accepted him with full joy and brought him up as any other child. However his parents weren’t aware of special schools for the blind, so Inas was enrolled in a mainstream school. Studying in a school with sighted peers and teachers was very difficult as Inas battled with visual forms of teaching. He dropped out of that school after Class 4 and then for two years he struggled to get admission in another school. Most schools denied admission on grounds of his visual impairment but he somehow managed to enter school again and struggled to study.

Inas was curious to learn new things. Many a times he grasped knowledge from television and his group of friends. He liked to watch Discovery channel which inclined him towards opting for Science stream in Class 11. But that proved to be a challenging choice as he faced a lot of difficulty in pursuing it. He had to rely on a reader for his syllabus as he had no knowledge of Braille and there was no audio syllabus for the same. And when it came to writing his exams, the school principal allowed him to use a scribe from one grade lower and Inas faced challenges explaining concepts to the writer. The difficulties made him lose interest in a subject of his choice. But he didn’t give up entirely.

During his visits to his local church he found out about screen readers used by visually impaired people to access computers. He got a demo version of JAWS (screen reading software) and tried to learn through online tutorials on his own. Later while helping one of his friends in their import and export business, Inas developed a keen interest and thought of setting up a business of his own. He realised he would need a degree in  Commerce, so he enroled for graduation in the subject. But here again he struggled with the course material expecially because he lacked proper understanding of Mathematics. He learnt about Eyeway from a local NGO and he called our Helpdesk for guidance.

Inas shared with the helpline counselor, his deep interest in setting up his business to become financially independent. He wanted to prove his worth and also support his family. He wanted to gain proper know-how of accounts, business, English language etc. before he could operate a business on his own. Realizing that Inas needed support to help realize his potential, Eyeway counselor offered step by step assistance on various fronts.

Foremost, Inas was apprised of the latest scribe guidelines for visually impaired students, which helped him get a scribe from the same level and subject. As a result he didn’t face any difficulty in appearing for his B.Com exams. Secondly, for strengthening his subject knowledge pertaining to Maths and Accounting, Inas was put in contact with a teacher at Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Mumbai. To improve his English speaking and understanding, the counselor advised him to regularly listen to audio books, watch English films and even refer to the internet for easy resources on the language. As for financial support to setup his business in the future, Eyeway told Inas about loans offered to persons with disabilities under the MHFDC (Maharashtra Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation) scheme.

Eyeway counsellor appreciated Inas’s focussed attitude towards his goals and his love for his family. He culled out the best from his surroundings. His native place Alibag is a tourist hub so he thought of starting an Export and Import business. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to brush up his communication skills. He is not leaving any stone unturned and acquiring adequate knowledge to support his ultimate dream.

Denial of banking rights on grounds of disability

Banking is an essential part of every person’s life, be it able or disabled. It is so vital that even age is not considered for it. Working adults, homemakers and even students access bank accounts for their day-to-day financial needs. Like everyone else, visually impaired and blind people also require banking services like issuance of Cheque book, Debit and Credit card, Locker and Loan facilities etc. In spite of the guidelines issued by RBI and IBA (Indian Banking Association), banking services are very often denied to  persons with vision impairment.

And this discrimination is not limited to government or private banks or against people who are economically weak or uneducated. Blind people irrespective of education background or socio economic status have reported instances of denial of banking rights to Eyeway in the past. More recently two visually impaired students approached our Maharashtra Helpdesk with similar complaints.

23 year old Amit Baisle who is a resident of Sangli is pursuing his Class 12 in Kohlapur. He is visually impaired since the age of 2. He approached a government bank in Kohlapur where he lives in a hostel accommodation, but the bank refused to open a savings account for him. The bank officials cited different reasons for denial, insisting on a PAN card submission, or a local address proof and even a copy of his father’s PAN card. He realized these documents were a simple excuse and the bank didn’t want to extend their service because he was blind. Amit had heard about Eyeway on radio and he sought help by calling our toll free helpline. Eyeway counselor was quick enough to understand Amit’s issue and provided him with necessary IBA and RBI issued guidelines citing that banks cannot deny service to anyone on grounds of disability. Once Amit submitted the guidelines to the bank, his account was opened and the officials confessed to their complete unawareness about the existence of such rules.

19-year-old Gaurav Ahir also approached a private bank in his hometown, Pune to open a savings account. While the bank official agreed to open his account, Gaurav was told he couldn’t be issued an ATM card or given access to net banking services, as he was blind. This meant that every time Gaurav needed to transact he would have to go to the bank, sign on a withdrawal slip to get cash. Even when Gaurav tried to explain to the bank officials that despite his vision impairment he could access all banking facilities through the internet, the bank refused to entertain him. So he called Eyeway seeking help. Like in the case of Amit, the counselor asked Gaurav to submit a copy of the IBA circular and RBI guidelines to the Bank Manager. Thankfully after submitting the necessary documents, the bank agreed to extend all services to Gaurav.

Access to financial services is essential for visually impaired people to function independently in the mainstream society. Existing guidelines, provisions and laws, all reinforce the need for an inclusive and accessible environment for persons with disabilities. But implementation of such rules suffers at the hands of sometimes ignorance, a lack of awareness and at times, sheer insensitivity towards another’s needs.

Never stop believing in yourself

23 year old Krishan Kumar belongs to Faridabad, Haryana. He lost his vision when he was 3 years old. Sheer carelessness and negligence on part of the doctors, caused a mere sty on his eyelid to completely damage his eyesight. He had a keen interest in studies so his parents enrolled him in a blind school at the age of 5 in Hisar, Haryana. His tragedy didn’t end here and at the tender age of 7, he lost both his parents. Following the parents’ demise, his grandmother took care of him and ensured that Krishan completed his studies.

After completing his schooling, Krishan enrolled in a 6 month computer training course from Faridabad, Haryana. He completed his graduation from Kurukshetra University and is employed as a Computer Trainer with an NGO working for disabled in Delhi. He recently married a visually impaired girl, who is a graduate seeking a job.

Krishan Kumar learnt about Eyeway service on the Hamari Vaani audio channel and he called for help to acquire a Plextalk DAISY player. Our counselor informed him about central government’s ADIP scheme under which assistive aids and appliances are distributed free of cost to persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the counselor provided contact details of two organizations authorized to distribute such devices to visually impaired people. Since then Krishan has been in regular touch with our counselor in Punjab and often calls for assistance on various issues. Educating him about the use of assistive technology, the counselor also guided Krishan to use Google maps mobile app for navigating across independently.

Krishan in his present job teaches about 85 children who are a mix of sighted and visually impaired. He asked for guidance from our counselor to get government affiliation for a computer center operational in Rohtak. This center is owned by Krishan’s friend who is also a person with vision impairment. Imparting computer training to 35 blind students, they aspire to build capacity to train a lot more students in the future. Eyeway counselor apprised Krishan of the process of gaining government affiliation for this center. Krishan was asked to prepare a proposal mentioning number of students, curriculum, etc and submit it to the Registrar Office in Delhi. He followed the advice and submitted the proposal which is currently under process.

Krishan Kumar is an example of hope for those who lose their confidence and start thinking of their life as a burden. In spite of having a tragic childhood, he didn’t stop believing in himself. He empowered himself through education and now he is working for the betterment of several other blind children who stand an equal chance at an independent future.

Aspiring for more!

33 year old Sharanappa Biradhar is a resident of Bidhar district in North Karnataka. He lost his eyesight when he was 3 years old. His parents were poor and unaware of ways to educate a blind child. But fortunately one of their relatives was a teacher in a blind school and informed them about it. At the age of 6, Sharanappa was sent to a government school for blind boys in Gulbarga where he studied till Class Xth. He completed his further studies from regular college including a B Ed. degree as he was interested in taking up a teaching job. In addition, Sharanappa also pursued a Diploma in Education from a training center for the visually impaired.

While he was studying, he got married to a sighted girl, who was also a graduate in B. Ed and supported him to study further. He cleared his KPSC entrance exam and got a job as First Division Assistant in the Forest Department where he worked for 2 years. Recently he appeared for competitive exams for teaching, as he wanted to be a teacher and got selected as a History teacher in a government school in Raichur district. For someone who is visually impaired, Sharanappa seems to be well-informed and ambitious. He uses braille for teaching as well was to access his reference notes.

As a regular listener to EnAble India’s audio service, Namma Vaani for disabled people in that region, Sharanappa came across the Eyeway toll free helpline number and called us for some of his queries. He wanted to apply for a UDID card but was unaware of the procedure. Eyeway counselor guided him through the entire application process. During the course of calls our counselor realized that even though he was educated and somewhat aware, Sharanappa lacked information regarding some easily available assistive technology to help him with daily needs. The counselor apprised him of various mobile apps, talk back feature on android phones, demonstrating to him how he could use all these tools to read the newspaper, navigate to a location independently, scanning documents and so on. Sharanappa realized all this could also prove helpful in improving his teaching methods.  He showed a keen interest to attend a training programme at EnAble India to gain proper know-how about assistive technology.

Sharanappa can be an inspiration for many because in spite of living in a rural area and being 100% visually impaired he is educated, well aware and ambitious.

Restarting his life at 28

28 year old Yogesh Suryavanshi belongs to Nasik district, Maharashtra. He started to lose his vision at the age of 15 due to night blindness and at present he is 90% visually impaired. Yogesh was pursuing Class 10th when he started facing problems due to his vision impairment. As a result he failed his Xth.  He was unaware of any facilities for persons with blindness. He referred to various doctors and ophthalmologists but no one provided him with any proper guidance on life after blindness. Since Yogesh had no information about schools for the blind, braille script or scribe facilities for visually impaired students, he quit his studies abruptly and 13 years of his life passed by without an education. In this time that he stayed home, he didn’t want to remain idle so he assisted his family members in farming activities.

Recently in 2018, Yogesh learnt about blind school for learning braille from his village sarpanch. He joined the school in Malegaon but was dependent on his father to take him every day. Looking for assistance online, Yogesh’s brother chanced upon Eyeway toll free number and they decided to call the Helpdesk. The Eyeway counselor informed him about various provisions, technology, education and employment opportunities available to persons with blindness. Yogesh was curious as to how could he navigate to his school alone, for which the counselor told him about smartphone apps like Lazarillo GPS for the blind. The counselor also emphasized on the need for Yogesh to undergo a proper course of rehabilitation so he can empower himself to study or work as per his choice.

He was informed about a rehabilitation training of 3.5 months at NAB (Mumbai) for mobility, English and basic computer skills including how to use a smartphone. Eyeway counsellor also apprised Yogesh of the option of completing his education and enrolling in Class 10 through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). But at 28, finding employment and gaining financial independence was a higher priority for Yogesh. So our counselor recommended enrolling at the Tata Agricultural and Rural Training Centre for the Blind in Gujarat which offers training in poultry, horticulture, animal husbandry etc. Since Yogesh was familiar with such farming activities he chose to join the TATA Center. Here he would also learn mobility, braille and home science in addition to the agricultural training. Yogesh has found new hope in life. He is eager to finish training, pursue education through distance learning so he can support himself and his family.

To new beginnings

34 year old Pragati Sharma is a resident of Delhi. She was born sighted and completed her schooling in a mainstream institution. But soon after her Class XII, Pragati suffered from an eye haemorrhage and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. This resulted in a gradual loss of vision due to which Pragati had to lose out on a year before she could enrol for college.

Unlike some visually impaired people, Pragati was fortunate to be born into a well-to-do educated family who continued to support her in every way despite the sudden vision loss. She decided to pursue her graduation from Delhi University. But through her third year, Pragati’s eye condition worsened because of which college authorities didn’t allow her to appear for the final examination. Despite all the support and guidance available from the family, there was an absolute lack of awareness when it came to life with blindness. Pragati had no idea about scribes available to visually impaired students to write their exams and she couldn’t complete her education for the next few years until she came in contact with Eyeway.

On learning more about possibilities and opportunities for blind people from Eyeway, Pragati decided to avail scribe facility to finish her graduation. By this time, she’d lost her eyesight completely so the Eyeway counselor suggested that she undergo computer training which would enable her to study using screen reading software.

Following the counselor’s advice, Pragati underwent a one year diploma in computer training from NAB Centre for Blind Women and pursued her BA alongside. She later also took up an advanced training at National Institute for Visually Handicapped in Dehradun. After having gone through proper training, Pragati felt empowered and decided to help others like her. She wanted to be independent, so she moved away from her family in Delhi to Dehradun to join a non-profit organization working for the differently abled. Here she was recognized by the America India Foundation for spreading awareness about living life with blindness.

She plans to pursue a degree in Law next so she can actively contribute to the empowerment of other visually impaired people. Pragati has been in close contact with the Eyeway counselors ever since her life took a positive turn.

Finding new direction to move forward

17 year old Prabhat Singh from Auraiya, Uttar Pradesh is blind by birth. His father is a farmer and his mother a home maker. He is the youngest among the six siblings and the only visually impaired person in the family. Coming from a low-income family, Prabhat had very little support to live a life with blindness. He was sent to a school for the blind in New Delhi which provided education, accommodation and food free of cost. Prabhat studied there for a few years but he failed in Class 8. The lack of emotional and financial support from his immediate family left him demotivated and depressed. His education came to a halt and he sat idle at home for the next three years.

But Prabhat desired to do more in life. He subscribed to a monthly braille magazine which he’d learnt about while in school. Going through one of the magazine issues, he chanced upon the Eyeway toll-free number and decided to call the helpline. Prabhat was very shy when he first dialled up the Eyeway toll-free number and found it difficult to frame his questions. After a positive and motivating conversation with the counselor, he decided to enrol at the Janta Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Handicapped where he underwent a six months training which included reading and writing Braille, candle making, usage of smart cane etc. After completing his training, the counselor advised him to prepare for CBSE’s Class X through open schooling. To help him with accessible study material, the counselor asked Prabhat to get in touch with either National Association for the Blind (NAB) or National Institute for the Visually Impaired (NIVH), Dehradun. But apart from completing his 10th, Prabhat was curious to know of training opportunities that would enable him to earn a living. He no longer wanted to be dependent on his family and so the counselor suggested him to join a vocational training program offered at the Tata Agricultural and Rural Training Centre for the Blind (TACEB), Gujarat which educates blind people in agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry with the objective of rehabilitating them back into the mainstream.

Following our counsel, Prabhat has joined Class 10 and will simultaneously pursue the training program at TACEB. He was extremely happy to have contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk and to found new goals for himself.

Overcoming despondency

Pankaj Kumar, a 22-year-old visually impaired resident of Motihari, Bihar had contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk in order to seek information on living life with blindness. He comes from an economically poor background. His father works as a farmer and his mother is a home maker. Pankaj isn’t blind by birth, his eyesight started to deteriorate when he was in Class 8 due to glaucoma. He managed to complete that year with deteriorating eyesight but could not pursue his education further. When the doctor declared that his eyesight could not be restored, Pankaj and his parents were very upset and lost hope for his future. Although his parents were illiterate and had little money, they wanted to look after him, but they had no idea as to how. For the next two years, he spent his time sitting idle at home not knowing what else to do. During this time, Pankaj heard about Eyeway on the radio and called the toll-free helpline to seek guidance. On hearing his story, the Eyeway counselor advised Pankaj to join a rehabilitation centre and continue his education.  However, Pankaj could not pursue this due to his family’s insecurity to let him out of the house. He lost four years in the process and became extremely depressed for this reason.

But Pankaj was desperate and so he once again contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk looking for a way to make some change in his life. On speaking to the counselor, he decided to come to Delhi to join a vocational and rehabilitation course at the Blind Relief Association (BRA) where he would be given proper training and could simultaneously pursue 10th standard through open schooling. Now, Pankaj has finished his 10th standard and a one-year stenography course along with 3 months of computer training from the National Association for the Blind, Faridabad. He will be appearing for his 12th CBSE board exams in March 2019.

Pankaj expresses his utmost gratitude towards Eyeway for constantly helping him and guiding him through the years from a state of despondence to that of independence. He now uses a computer, an android phone and other assistive technology for his education. After 12th, he plans to complete a Bachelor’s degree so as to broaden his range of employability options.

Finding focus and assistance to gain economic independence

27 year old Mukesh Kumar hails from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. He is the youngest of the four siblings who are all visually impaired. Mukesh suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa since birth. His parents were keen that their children should all get a good education as best as they could despite blindness. Like his elder brothers, Mukesh studied in Delhi, staying at the hostel provided by National Association for Blind (NAB). After completing his Class 12th, Mukesh was keen to pursue further education and he completed his Bachelors and Masters in Hindi from Delhi University. Up until this point, he was following the usual course of education hoping it would lead him to a government job like his father. But as a blind person, Mukesh didn’t know what steps to take next. He didn’t know how he could equip himself to function among sighted people in the mainstream.

So Mukesh decided to contact the Eyeway Helpdesk counselor stationed at NAB Delhi. The counselor realized that even though Mukesh was a Post-Graduate, he lacked certain skills to function independently. He also lacked focus in terms of a career path because he wasn’t aware how much or what role a blind person could perform in a government job. So the counselor suggested Mukesh to start off with basic computer training. This would help him read and write independently and also increase his chances of employment as most jobs today require working computer knowledge. Assistive technology has to a large extent bridged the gap between how sighted and visually impaired people function. Eyeway counselor apprised Mukesh of various smartphone applications that could prove useful for him in daily living as well as employment. Since he’d studied Hindi, the counselor suggested him to apply for an Official Language Officer post in a government bank. Alternatively he could also apply for a Probationary Officer’s job. Computers and assistive technology know-how would help him prepare for the competitive banking exams. The counselor also gave him the option to apply for a Hindi translator’s job in private sector.

Mukesh is close to finishing his computer training at NAB and with the help of Eyeway, he has been certified under the National Digital Literacy Mission. He is in regular touch with the counselor at NAB-Eyeway Helpdesk for updates on software and applications for visually impaired, government schemes and provisions and new job openings.