Can Sports Broadcasters not Overlook Blind Cricket Fans?

By George Abraham

I have been following Indian cricket since 1969. I debuted as a cricket fan during the India vs New Zealand series when the Graham Dowling-led side locked horns with Tiger Pataudi and his team. India won the first Test at Mumbai, New Zealand levelled the score at Nagpur while the third Test at Hyderabad was drawn thanks to rain. Next, the Indian cricket fan was treated to a five Test feast when Bill Lawry’s Australian team visited India. Every match was covered on radio, every ball was described in detail, updated scorecards were read out at regular intervals. Listening to the radio commentary was accelerating and we, the listeners, were literally made to feel that we were present pitch-side. As a visually impaired youngster, I was totally bowled over by the sport, never missed a match. Commentators like Anant Setalvad, Devraj Puri, Dicky Rutnagur, Balu Alaganan literally became the eyes of millions of listeners across the nation. During a Test match, I, like many others, would be carrying a transistor radio wherever I went. Conversations at street corners, coffee houses and social events would be about cricket.

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Paving way for a bright future

Yogesh Kad suffered from the rare Stevens-Johnson syndrome leading to vision loss. His middle class family approached various good eye hospitals for his treatment but to no avail. Since the mainstream school was ill equipped to teach a visually impaired student, he had to drop out of school. He took a one year break to learn braille and enrolled in a special school for the blind in grade 6. After finishing grade 8, he decided to directly appear for Class 10 exam through National Institute of Open Schooling.

Growing up Yogesh did not see blindness as a deterrent, he learnt mobility on his own. He was always surrounded by sighted friends who helped him write his exams and read out notes for him. This helped him to successfully complete his Bachelor’s in Computer Applications. It was only when he could not pursue his Masters due to financial crisis that Yogesh found himself at a loss of information on advanced courses and while researching online, he got to know about Eyeway.

The Eyeway counselor suggested him alternate ways of pursuing his interest which would also make him employable. Once he started with his free advanced online computer training, he realised that he needed to work on his communication skills. On contacting Eyeway again, other alternate options were suggested to him.

Yogesh is now confident that with these skills he can pursue his interest in computer operating jobs.

Vision comes with determination and the right mindset

While he was still a student of grade 12, Monu Kumar heard about Eyeway in a message broadcast on All India Radio. Little did he know that one day Eyeway would become a source of constant support and guidance for him.

Monu first experienced vision issues when he was in grade 6. He was harrowed by the feeling that he was unable to see clearly after sunset. As a result, he started confining himself to his house in the evenings. On knowing about this development, his family got him a Disability certificate so that he could avail scribe facility for his board examination.

With family’s support, he overcame his limitations and went on to complete his undergraduate degree in Economics. He also successfully cleared the Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) and secured a school teacher’s job in Bihar.

As life seemed to get smooth for Monu, one unfortunate day at the school, he lost his vision completely. With his sight, he lost hope too. He became completely dependent on others for assistance. His confidence levels dropped drastically and he began to suffer a deep sense of inferiority. His colleagues at school undermined his ability to be able to independently teach his class given his blindness.

Desperate for help, he contacted Eyeway. Our team counselled him by citing examples of people who were completely blind in teaching profession using technology as a medium to be at par with their sighted colleagues. He was introduced to various assistive technology devices that would enable him to teach his class independently.

On Eyeway’s advice he has undergone mobility and computer training. He has also learnt how to use a smartphone using the talk back feature that has helped him greatly. All these new developments have brought back his lost confidence. Now 28 years old, Monu shows extraordinary determination to stay at par with his contemporaries in school.

Getting back to normal life

A road accident in 2015 changed Sarath Krishnan’s life forever. A commerce student of Class 12, he was out for a fun ride with one of his friends. Sarath lost 65% of his vision and after spending nearly six months recovering in the hospital, he was handed over a Disability certificate without any further information on how he could live his life with blindness. With little acceptance of his vision loss and no reorientation, Sarath dropped out from school and sat idle at home for the next four years.

Coming from a financially poor background, Sarath did not want to be a burden on his parents who were daily wage labourers. He wanted to restart his life and become independent once again. But he did not know how. He reached the Eyeway Helpdesk on the recommendation of his eye doctor in the Little Flower Hospital in Angamaly, Kerala.

After understanding his need, the Eyeway counselor suggested him to undergo six-month rehabilitation training in a Kerala based non- profit organization, Ability Foundation. Here he learnt mobility skills, coping with basic daily needs as well as how to use computer with the aid of screen reading software. The Eyeway counselor also encouraged him to complete his class 12 through distance learning. Sarath plans to use his newly acquired computer skills to study for competitive examinations that will help him with government job opportunities. He aspires to become financially independent and support his parents and younger brother one day.

 

Overcoming limitations

20-year-old Garv Sabharwal has been mostly dependent on his mother for decision making in every aspect of his life after he lost his vision in grade 6. With the guidance from National Association for the Blind (NAB), his parents were able to apply for a Disability certificate that helped him complete his Class 12 from a mainstream school. At NAB, he also underwent a basic computer training and a short advanced programme.

Born into a middle class family, his mother, a homemaker has left no stone unturned to visit every organization working with the blind to help her son live an independent life. She heard about Eyeway during her visits to other organizations and brought her son along to meet with the Eyeway counselors in Delhi so he could receive career guidance and valuable inputs from the team.

During the interaction with Eyeway, it was found that despite pursuing his Bachelors from a mainstream college, and surrounded by sighted people, Garv lacked confidence to make friends or interact openly with his classmates. Stigmatized by his disability he had low self-esteem that prevented him from exploring opportunities independently. He wanted to pursue a career in technology but was unsure on how to move forward.

On realizing the need for an intervention, Eyeway counselor apprised Garv about Nazar ya Nazariya series that showcases life stories of successful people living with blindness. This helped boost his confidence, shifting the focus on his abilities. He was also advised to subscribe to accessible online libraries and news portals to remain updated on the latest study material and news that would help him pick conversations with peers. In addition, he was advised to participate in a series of theatre workshops that would help in overcoming his fear of interacting with people. He was connected with a technology expert, Mr. Prashant Ranjan Verma, General Secretary of National Association for the Blind, Delhi to get guidance on various opportunities and new accessible technologies that can help him pursue his interest without any apprehensions.

Paying heed to the counselor’s suggestions, Garv is taking baby steps to integrate into a social life and overcome self -imposed limitations to live a fulfilling life.

Brimming with newfound confidence

Twenty-seven-year-old Aman Nandev from Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in Class XII. Despite his vision loss, Aman continued studying in a mainstream school with the support of his teachers and family. While the intention of the people around him were noble, none of them were aware of the provisions for persons with vision impairment, making him dependent on others around him. Since he was struggling with the lack of vision and did not know he could take help of a scribe to write his exam, he failed twice before clearing his final exams in the third attempt.

In 2018, when Aman contacted Eyeway, he had completed his graduation and was pursuing his Masters in Hindi literature. Without undergoing reorientation to live his life with blindness, he had been dependent on his friends and father to accompany him to college which was located at a distance from his home. When his friends were on leave, his father, a tailor by profession had to leave his work and accompany the son to college causing a financial constraint to the family.

Wanting to move forward independently and contribute to his family income, he sought information on whether he could do a computer course. The counselor suggested him courses that could help him find computer operating jobs in both private and government sector. Eyeway also recommended Aman to undergo mobility training which would enable him to move around freely.

Aman successfully completed the suggested computer training course. After learning assistive technology, he is now confident that he can study and prepare for UPSC examinations, aiming his ambitions a little higher than what he started with.

Not limiting his vision

21- year-old Ankit Bhasin from Hebbal, Bangalore was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at birth. Having lost his eye sight gradually, he is left with only 10% vision., But Ankit was fortunate to receive full support from his family, because of which he could successfully finish his schooling and graduation in Journalism. His early introduction to technology helped him study in mainstream institutions using computers and other assistive devices.

While Ankit had been lucky to have found support in his family, he aspired to be independent financially. Seeking job opportunities, he contacted Eyeway Helpdesk on a friend’s recommendation. The Eyeway counselor learned that Ankit wanted to pursue a career in radio as an anchor. He was suggested make a list of all radio stations and then send his resume across for a radio presenter’s job.

Ankit is yet to hear back from the places he has applied to owing to the apprehensions of mainstream employers in hiring people with visual impairment. However, this has not dampened his spirits. Expressing his desire to work in other sectors, Eyeway counselor connected him to the Customer Support team at Enable India, who in turn informed Ankit about the vacancies at LinkedIn. Befitting to his profile, he was able to secure a job at LinkedIn as a Customer Support Executive.

Ankit is grateful to Eyeway team for their support and is happy working in his current position. He will continue to pursue his dream of working as an RJ while gaining work experience from other sectors.

Seeking a dignified life

26-year-old Ramesh Kotti was born to a poor family in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Losing vision at an early age of 11, his parents thought of him as a burden. Since his father was an alcoholic, his mother decided to leave and remarry but this only made things worse for Ramesh as his new family treated him as a liability. He was forced to beg on the streets by his mother and when he denied to do so he was thrown out of the house.

For the last 15 years the boy has been living on railway platforms fending for himself, exposed to daily dangers of street life. He would ask for help from every passing by commuter wanting to be put into a special school. Taking pity on him, one day a local woman took him home. She then contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk in Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, Mumbai seeking help for Ramesh.

With so many years gone by without any education or any form of rehabilitation, the Eyeway team realized an immediate need for him to learn skills for independent living. The counselor contacted an organization in Vangani, Maharashtra, a community of blind people. Living with fellow visually impaired people and undergoing a programme would help him reorient and get back to leading a normal life. However, the challenges did not end here for Ramesh. Before he could formally join a training programme, he had a skin disease to be taken care of, for which Eyeway put him in touch with an NGO that helped him get the required medical treatment free of cost.

Since Ramesh has been living on the streets and has no proof of identity to avail any benefits or provisions provided by the government for persons with disabilities, he needs proper documentation. Despite the heartless treatment meted out by his family and losing precious prime years of his life, he is still keen to start afresh in a dignified manner. Eyeway will continue to look for the best possible solutions for Ramesh.

Giving wings to aspirations

22-year-old Riya Aggarwal from Ahmedabad, Gujarat was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disorder which results in gradual vision loss. Her vision started to deteriorate in class 8 and by class 10 she turned completely blind. Studying in a mainstream school with sighted students became challenging, so Riya had to drop out. After sitting idle at home for two years, someone guided the family to enroll her in a special school. Riya restarted her education, taking help from family and friends to study. She also learnt about online libraries to access books and course material in a digital format as opposed to the inaccessible printed versions. She successfully finished her schooling and started her graduation in English Literature.

A bright student and topper all along, she was increasingly hassled by the thought of not being able to score well as all syllabus wasn’t easily available in accessible formats. Riya called Eyeway for help.

Eyeway contacted a few NGOs working in this area, helping Riya get her the required study material. During the interactions, our counselor learnt that she wanted to complete her Masters and Ph.D. in Literature, aspiring to become a lecturer. However, dependency on her friends and family for a long time had left her unsure and under-confident. Eyeway counselor assured her that every dream was easy to achieve if she acquired adequate skills for functioning independently. Riya was given some local options for mobility and computer training which will help her regain confidence.

Charting out his own course

22-year-old Ujjwal Kumar called Eyeway from his native place, Sasaram in Bihar. He was in search of coaching classes to help him prepare for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams.

On engaging with him, Eyeway counselor learnt that Ujjwal lost his eye sight at the age of 12 because of an injury. He had to take a break from his studies after Class 7 because of the recently acquired vision impairment. Three years later, a friend informed Ujjwal of a local training institute where he could learn braille which finally helped him in pursuing his education.

But the journey was never smooth for Ujjwal as he didn’t have proper information of what was available in terms of assistance, technology or training programmes for visually impaired people like him. When he got in touch with Eyeway, not only did we give him several options of coaching centers that would help him prep for UPSC but also informed him of technology devices that could aid him. He learnt about audio books, screen readers, daisy player and so on.

Ujjwal joined the suggested coaching center but failed to clear his exam. But by this time, given the knowledge and confidence he had acquired from the engagement with Eyeway, Ujjwal decided to do something of his own. He opened up a UPSC coaching center of his own where he would teach students preparing for their exams. He made use of assistive technology devices to convert study material into accessible format so he could seamlessly deliver the knowledge in his coaching classes.

Apart from running the center with an income inflow of his own, Ujjwal is also pursuing MA in Public Administration from Indira Gandhi Open University.