Early support goes a long way

20 year old Mukul Sharma is a resident of Delhi and visually impaired by birth. He has completed his schooling from a regular CBSE school which is well-equipped with teaching techniques for children with disability. His school provided him with a special educator in junior classes, who taught him the skills of reading and writing Braille as well as using Taylor Frame for Mathematical Concepts. When he reached 3rd standard his teachers taught him computers with the help of JAWS software. He has been in touch with National Association for Blind (NAB) Delhi throughout his childhood and learnt indoor mobility using indoor techniques and white cane.

Mukul has done a basic computer course at NAB, where he was trained for JAWS and NVDA along with the basic computer operations including typing, surfing, emailing and learning about Microsoft Office applications. He gave his Xth CBSE board exams including Computer and scored 82%. After the basics he enrolled himself in the Advanced Computer Course in 2015. While working on the computer he faced issues in representing mathematical questions and approached NAB Helpline for assistance. In response Eyeway Counselor gave all possible assistance to helping Mukul ressolve his issues. The counselor has been in constant touch since and keeps updating Mukul with the latest assistive technologies which help him in his day-to-day life. With the guidance of Eyeway Counselor and knowledge of assistive technology, Mukul got the confidence to do his graduation from a regular college and he is currently pursuing Bachelor’s in English (Honors) from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, Delhi University.

Our counselor also guided Mukul in using a smartphone with the aid of Voice Over software, an inbuilt accessibility feature on both iPhone. He was informed about the “Seeing AI” and “Be My Eyes” free apps. “Seeing AI” also known as Talking Camera is an app that narrates the world around you and “Be My Eyes” is an app for visual assistance through live video call to visually impaired people. Mukul now accesses Whatsapp, email for communication purpose, Ola and Uber apps for commuting and other apps for mobile banking on his smartphone. All these apps have helped Mukul to gain ease of access and independence in his daily functions. Mukul’s family is happy that Eyeway has been able to mould him into an independent person, the way they brought him up along with his siblings, ignoring his visual impairment as a disability.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Drishti is a 21 year old resident of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. She belongs to an educated family and her childhood dream is to open a pathology lab. She had complete vision till 8th standard, but in the year 2011, she woke up one day without vision in her left eye. Her parents took her to the hospital and with proper treatment, her vision improved but in the consecutive year she faced the same problem in her right eye. The doctors diagnosed her of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a condition where the vision deteriorates gradually.

After completing her Xth standard from CBSE board in 2012, she had to take a break of 3 years given her vision impairment and the struggle it brought along. Buut she didn’t want to sit idle so in this time she learnt dancing and French at home. She also enrolled herself in vocal music course from IFTI, (Indian Film and Television Institute) Meerut. After the gap, she enrolled herself in Science stream for XIIth boards through NIOS, but unfortunately she failed her exams. She was keen to fulfill her dream of opening a pathology lab, so she admitted again for her XIIth in Science stream from UP Board and this time she requested for a scribe. She produced her Disability Certificate stating her vision impairment at 75% to allow her the use of a scribe but the UP Board officials denied her scribe, despite it being in her right to ask for one. She was disappointed but hell bent on going ahead with her exams. She decided to write her own exams with the remaining 25% vision and luckily she cleared her 12th.

But still Drishti was facing issues like mobility, reading, writing and accessing computers. Her father was searching for a blind school on the internet and he came across National Association for the Blind (NAB), Delhi. Their visit to NAB was an eye-opener, when they saw visually impaired people working on Computer/ Laptops and accessing mobile phones easily. They met with Eyeway counselor at NAB, who informed her about the use of assistive technology for daily needs. On the counselor’s advice she enrolled in a 4 month rehabilitative and computer training course at NAB which helped her in mobility and addressed her functional problems. When she learnt about the screen reader/ NVDA and Digital Library, she was persuaded to achieve her childhood dream again, of opening a pathology lab. To turn her dreams into reality, she is currently preparing for the entrance exam for Bachelors in Medical Laboratory Technology (BMLT) with the help of accessible books online. She is also planning to pursue her graduation from NIOS simultaneously. Drishti is an example of a girl who has clear ambition and in spite of her disability, she is motivated and passionate about attaining her dream. Eyeway is happy to assist her in every way possible.

It’s never too late

Deepak is 25 years old and a resident of Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh. He lost vision at the age of 12, due to Meningitis. It was a gradual loss of sight after the fever, when he started facing problem while studying. His teachers understood the problem and informed his parents. Initially for 2 years his parents took him to Gorakhpur and Lucknow government hospitals for eye treatment, but when doctors said that his vision cannot be restored, his parents sent him to his grandparents in Kaushambi. His parents continued to live in West Bengal with their other four children, as his father held a government job in the municipality there. Deepak is the youngest of all siblings, but his parents had no clue how to deal with his visual disability so they left him with the grandparents. They did not know how else to support him except taking care of him financially.

For the past 12 years, Deepak has been living a life entirely dependent on his grandparents due to lack of awareness. Five months ago he heard about the Eyeway toll-free number on Vivid Bharti (radio) and decided to call the Helpdesk, seeking support and guidance. Deepak was curious to know if it was possible for him to lead an independent life, earning on his own despite his vision loss. The counselor had to counsel Deepak to re-start his education, at the age of 25. Deepak was advised to enrol in NIOS and give exams for Class Xth, which will enable him to study further as he is interested in Science. The counselor also realized that Deepak has lived a confined life so he needs to be oriented into a life with blindness for which we suggested him to enroll in a course at the Blind Relief Association (BRA). The course would equip with skills in mobility and computers. Once he is rehabilitated, he will have better knowledge of using assistive technology which will help him in pursuing his education. Our counselor briefed him with all the documents required for the admission in BRA course as he will be joining the session from January 2019.

Deepak was motivated to know that our counselor is also visually impaired and yet he is confidently guiding and helping others to be independent. He shared his keenness to study and how he wants himself to speak fluently in English. Our counselor assured Deepak that nothing was impossible and he was so far unable to do anything because of lack of awareness and not because of the loss of vision. But now with appropriate information and proper guidance, he could attain anything he aspires to. Deepak felt hopeful and keen to start a new innings and told our counselor he didn’t want to waste another day now. In his own words to the Helpdesk counselor, “Mujhe ek din bhi waste nahin karna!”

Making the most of it

A resident of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh Anil Sahni is blind by birth. Two of his siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother are also visually impaired. He belongs to an economically weak family with his father as the sole bread earner. Anil’s mother is uneducated herself but she has aspirations for all her four children. She dreams of seeing them grow up into well-educated and respectfully employed individuals.

Anil like all other children his age started his education in a regular school. And since no one in his family knew about special schools for the blind, Anil had to rely on his hearing for all that was being taught in the mainstream classroom. He was keen to learn but his learning was limited by his visual impairment. It was only when he turned 16 that Anil enrolled in a blind school for his Class 10.

When Anil’s friends at his new school told him about Eyeway, he was curious to know more. He called our Helpdesk and inquired for his mobility and study needs. He also asked if there were any provisions made by the government for blind people like him. Eyeway counselor told Anil about assistive devices like Daisy player for reading and the smart cane for walking independently. The counselor also shared details about courses available at the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun. Anil was encouraged to get in touch with NIVH so he could get proper computer training and any other vocational training which would open up job avenues for him once he completes his studies. We also helped him apply for a UDID card which would enable him to apply for various government provisions and concessions in the future.

Anil is in regular touch with Eyeway and he calls frequently whenever he hits a stumbling block. And not just Anil, his other two visually impaired siblings are also benefitting from the information shared by us.

Ray of hope

19 year old Alvin Paulose is a resident of Ernakulam district in Kerala. Since birth Alvin suffers from a nerve disorder due to which his eyesight is deteriorating gradually. This impacted his education in a mainstream school where the modes of teaching were largely visual. Alvin had to rely on his teachers and friends to read out study material he had trouble seeing. In addition he used an audio recorder to keep notes from his classroom proceedings.

But as his vision deteriorated further, he struggled to write exams on his own. Alvin requested his college authorities to allow him to use a scribe to write his first year English Literature exams. That’s when he realized that he needed something called a Disability Certificate, stating his percentage of blindness. Alvin wasn’t aware that as a visually impaired person, using a Disability Certificate he was entitled to certain government provisions.

On his visit to Little Flower Hospital, Angamaly for an updated medical report, Alvin was redirected to the Eyeway Helpdesk. On his interaction with our counselor, Alvin expressed his present concerns regarding a scribe and his future academic as well as employment ambitions. As someone with deteriorating vision, Alvin wasn’t sure of what opportunities were available to him.

Eyeway counselor shared complete details of the district hospital where Alvin could get his Disability Certificate issued. The counselor also advised him to complete his graduation, pursue his masters in the same subject so that he could apply for possible jobs as an English teacher or a content writer. To inspire confidence in Alvin, our counselor shared with him the story of Pranjal Patil, the first visually impaired IAS Officer in India. Alvin was also surprised at the ease with which the Eyeway counselor operated in his job role. He asked several questions pertaining to the counselor’s personal struggle as a totally blind person himself. The counselor shared his journey with Alvin, apprising him of several assistive tools and technology available for blind people that can help in various daily functions, education and employment.

Our counselor motivated Alvin to work hard, make use of assistive devices and provisions available for blind people and reconnect with Eyeway for any help in the future.

Alvin has already acquired a Disability Certificate that mentions 80% visual impairment, on the basis of which his college will permit him to use a scribe for his upcoming examination.

Guiding on a productive future

Rahul Kumar from Mussorie, Uttarakhand is 24 years old and was born visually impaired. He was born into a poor family, where his father works as a cook in the nearby convent school and mother stays as a home-maker. He also has two younger sisters who are also visually impaired. But being poor and unaware of living life with blindness, Rahul and his sisters were living within their available means. Rahul was put in the nearby mainstream government school where he studied in the midst of many challenges.

He didn’t get any support from teachers or friends; he faced challenges in getting accessible study material, writing exams without any scribe support, or in planning a future for him. Though he underwent a surgery while pursuing his 6th standard, his vision was beyond recovery. Thus, with a deteriorating vision he pursued his schooling enduring all the challenges that came his way.

But his life was to take a turn for the worse when he experienced a severe head ache and eye strain prior to his 12th board exams. This resulted in him giving up on his exams and almost halting any further pursuit of education. He has been sitting at home idle since this adversity in his life, not having any knowledge on living life as a visually impaired individual. Four years from 2014 he was confined to his home. His visually impaired sisters continued in the same school in the manner as him. It was during this time that he chanced upon the Eyeway toll free number exploring for information on the internet.

He contacted Eyeway with queries like procuring a disability certificate and enquiring about future career prospects for him and his sisters. The Eyeway counselor appropriately guided him to the designated district hospital wherefrom he could procure his disability certificate. Rahul following the instructions given by the counselor got his disability evaluated at 75% consequential to retina damage and got the certificate issued. And for his future career prospects, the counselor instructed Rahul to complete his schooling through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). Counselor also instructed that for his sisters to become eligible for any employment, completion of basic school education is necessary. The counselor also asked Rahul to watch the Eyeway TV series ‘Nazar Ya Nazariya’ on YouTube to find inspiration from other visually impaired individuals who have turned their lives into success. Also to improve his career prospects, the counselor suggested him to consider pursuing vocational courses in National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) or National Institute of Visually Handicapped (NIVH).

Rahul has already followed our advice and joined NIOS for completing his 12th standard and NIVH for pursuing a six month computer training program.

Craving social inclusion

32-year-old Tulsi Javeri from Goregaon, Mumbai was born blind with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Her well-to-do parents took good care of her and made sure she went to school and didn’t miss out on formal education. She was put in a nearby Marathi medium pre-primary blind school where she completed her kindergarten. After completion of her kindergarten, her parents tried to find her a mainstream school. Multiple schools rejected her admission to the disappointment of her parents’ aspirations for Tulsi. But luckily for them she was finally admitted in a mainstream school where she started her education and went on to pursue higher education.

Since getting to know about Eyeway in 2017, Tulsi has gradually become a friend of Eyeway, communicating almost every day with the counselor. It was during these consistent conversations with the counselor, she started to share her feelings on the social exclusion she was facing. She said she is suffering from loneliness due to this lack of acceptance and thus having to spend most of her time alone. She wanted to get connected with people and have a vibrant social life, but she didn’t know how. Her visual impairment has come in the way for her to lead a normal social life. Also the lack of accessible technology around her like the internet, android phone, social media etc. did adversely impact.

Although she had support from teachers, friends and family, it remained task-specific. Like, if she needed class notes, study material, help with writing exams etc. she got immense support and it ended there. Such support helped in pursuing her college education, enhancing her music skills or acquiring a new training. It was not helping her to find friends, occasions or events to spend a life outside her household. At the same time she also completed her Visharad in Hindustani Classical music and post-graduation in music. After completing her college, she also learned computer from a private training center which she had to redo after few years due to the lack of practice.

Eyeway counselor on understanding her issues and finding how ambitious she is about her personal and professional life wanted to help her with the best solutions. The counselor shared with her multiple ways to get connected with people both on the social media and in real life. She shared with her information on various gatherings where visually impaired people meet, interact and socialize. On the accessibility and technology related issues she was given adequate information, specifically on how to create multiple email accounts, how to use social media, perform software updates etc. Also, the counselor connected her with a reliable source to help her out in using her phone.

Tulsi expressed her joy in knowing so much on the opportunities she has to broaden the horizons of her life. She remains to be a frequent caller and Eyeway hopes to help her in every way possible.

Guiding towards long-term solutions

Shivkumar Patil is a resident of Solapur, Maharashtra and was born sighted into a poor family. At the age of 4 years he was affected by a retina related eye disease. Although his parents sought treatment at various hospitals for him, they had to endure with a complete vision loss. He was put in a nearby blind school in Solapur with a residential facility. He studied in the blind school till he completed his 10th standard.

Lack of cooperation from school and inadequate study material made his education a difficult aspiration by the time he finished Class 10th. Thus, he decided to give up on education and instead look for employment. For this he joined a vocational training program in National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai in 2013 and later a computer course in Pune in 2015. Neither finding any employment nor able to afford accommodation in the city he came back to Solapur. He enrolled into higher secondary school through Open University and stayed at NAB, Solapur hostel.  He also kept looking for various government jobs at the same time but his qualifications were inadequate for majority of the jobs.

He heard about Eyeway on the radio and contacted the Helpdesk in 2017. He has been in frequent contact since then and benefitted much from his interaction with our counselor. He had various queries pertaining to concessions for visually impaired, UDID card, and vacancies for government jobs.  He was in pursuit of a quick fix to many of his problems like poverty, disability dependence etc., and he believed employment was the best solution. But the Eyeway counselor motivated him to pursue his education so a wider range of opportunities would open up for him with better qualifications. This consistent encouragement made him to pursue graduation after finishing school. This was a significant transition in Shivkumar’s life – someone who thought there is no place for him in this world started to aspire for the best.

He joined graduation through open schooling from Yashavantrao Chavhan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU), Nashik. After his first year annual exams he failed in a paper and he wanted to make use of the provision of 3% grace marks for visually impaired allowed by the State Board to obtain a pass result. He contacted Eyeway for help. Our counselor provided Shivkumar with the government resolution citing the provision of grace marks and asked him to submit an appeal with the University office. After some delay and another visit to clarify the matter, his result was finally modified.

While we helped resolve his immediate problem, Eyeway also encouraged Shivkumar to study hard so that he doesn’t have to rely on such provisions in the future. And to assist him with the study material, our counselor apprised him of Bookshare, an online accessible library and assistive apps like the Simply Reading app. Shivkumar was also put in touch with a representative of Bookshare for any further assistance. He has signed up for a membership of the online library to access relevant course books.

Surmounting obstacles

Dashrath Talveja, 68-year-old resident of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh is visually impaired by birth. He discontinued his studies after class 11th and joined his family business of furniture. On a recent visit to Ahmedabad for his grandson’s admission into medical college, Dashrath got a chance to visit Blind People’s Association (BPA). He had some functional concerns he faced on a daily basis in his business operation for which he was redirected to the Eyeway Helpdesk housed at BPA. Dashrath shared his challenges with the Helpdesk counselor.

Since he helped with the business accounting, he found it difficult to read small font in documents like bills and visiting cards. He currently uses a magnifying glass and a torch to carry out this task. The Eyeway counsellor comprehended the situation and apprised him of various computer software, devices and android applications that could prove useful. The counsellor also demonstrated the use of NVDA screen reader on the computer and Talkback application on an android mobile phone. Dashrath was also informed about the various OCR (Optical Character Recognition) applications such as Google Lens, Smart Lens, Eye-D Pro etc. that convert handwritten, typed or printed texts into machine-encoded texts, making it accessible and easier to read.

Excited to hear about assistive technology solutions, Dashrath was curious to know more. He expressed an interest to enrol in a computer training programme. The counselor gave him the options of joining a week’s training at BPA itself or exploring training programmes in his hometown. Eyeway will continue to follow up with Dashrath until we identify a suitable computer training centre for him in Madhya Pradesh.