Harshit Agarwal

Harshit Agarwal of Jabalpur, MP, has low vision due to Ocular Albinism. He asked his university for extra time to write his 3rd year BCom examination by himself. However, the university did not allow him extra time, apparently because there is no central circular issued to universities to implement such provisions for visually impaired students. Harshit referred his problem to the Eyeway Helpdesk, and right away we connected him to an NGO in Bhopal. The NGO in turn contacted the Chancellor of the university. Finally, the College allowed Harshit to have extra time in his exams.

Mamta Chandiramani

It’s encouraging to see how individual efforts armed with right knowledge can help bring a wider change.
In April 2013 Mamta Chandiramani emailed the Eyeway Helpdesk looking for support to find a suitable writer for an exam she was taking five days later. She works with a branch of State Bank of India (SBI) in Mumbai and was sitting the internal promotional exams.

Being blind, Mamta needed a writer to take her exam, which SBI asked her to arrange herself. Furthermore SBI also prescribed the criteria for selecting a writer, stating the person could not be a graduate and also should not have scored more than 60% marks in their last exam. The person also needed to prove he/she meets the eligibility conditions by submitting copies of documents at the time of the examination.

Finding a scribe has always been difficult for blind/low-vision candidates, they have to find someone who can read/write their subjects, meet the criteria, and is available and willing to help.

From Mamta’s email it was clear that SBI is not aware of the new uniform examination guidelines for people with blindness/low-vision pronounced by the Government of India on 26 February 2013. The new guidelines mandated authorities across India to bring a paradigm shift in how examinations are conducted for people with blindness/low-vision and other disabilities. The new guidelines state that the focus should be on competency of the writer rather than laying down any eligibility conditions. This helps ensure a level playing field for visually impaired examinees, rather than complicating matters.

We apprised Mamta of the new rules and suggested she approach her employer to revise their rules accordingly.

She approached her branch head with the new information. He immediately forwarded the request internally to the concerned HR officials. Almost in a day’s time, Mamta got a call and written confirmation that SBI functionaries in her region had changed the promotional examination rules. She was allowed to take along anyone as a writer irrespective of age, education, marks scored etc, and SBI would appropriately invigilate.

Though the change didn’t help the few other visually impaired people in SBI across India who took this promotional exam this time around, it was observed that SBI immediately changed the writer selection criteria on their website for the officer recruitment exams held across India on 28 April 2013.

Pratyush Kaushal

Pratyush Kaushal, an 18 year old student from Delhi started experiencing loss of vision when he was in class 11. He approached Score Foundation before the CBSE Class 12 examinations in 2016 for counselling and advice. His concern pertained to a rule according to which the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) does not allow a scribe from the same stream as the student taking the exam.

We helped Pratyush’s family connect and engage with the office of the Chief Commissioner for persons with Disabilities (CCPD). CCPD encouraged the CBSE to accommodate his concern. The CBSE complied and he was eventually allowed to have a scribe from his stream. This is very beneficial as terminologies, figures, symbols, and diagrams are better understood by a scribe who is familiar with the subjects. Pratyush prepared rigorously and went on to score a remarkable 95 per cent in the class 12 examinations.

This determined young man wants to do a B.Tech in Computer Science Engineering. His father Mr Ranjit Kumar, expressed concern that most engineering colleges in Delhi do not have proper infrastructural or library facilities for students with visual impairment. Despite these challenges facing his college education experience, Pratyush shares with us an optimistic message; “In life, a thousand people might tell you that you cannot do something. But it is very important to have self-belief. Facing challenges will make you a stronger person than most.”

Sucharu Gupta

Getting our number from Just Dial, Sucharu Gupta called us in March, 2013. She is 32 years old and has a B.Tech in Electronics and Communication, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Embedded Systems. She has also worked with a software development firm.

A loving mother and wife, Sucharu had quit her job after conceiving her first baby and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2005. She called the Eyeway Helpdesk when, while juggling marriage, a child, her own intellectual and professional needs and a degenerative eye-condition, she was not satisfied with her quality of life. She thought living a fuller life with vision impairment was a task she could handle, with some direction and information.

As the Helpdesk engaged with Sucharu, we glimpsed a dynamic woman who was trying to curb the psychological effects of a degenerative retinal disorder, and facing broader mobility and orientation issues as well as a need to productively use her time.

Within a few calls Sucharu voiced many diverse and basic doubts and queries. Issues of low-vision consultancy, functional vision, recognition of RP related characteristics, rehabilitation to use computers and tablets with the help of assistive devices, and how to get a disability certificate. Since the Helpdesk deals with such questions routinely, we realized what Sucharu was looking for was information. She was not relying on anybody for help; she wanted information to be able to help herself. With the onset of her vision deterioration, she wanted to look past her impairment and empower herself to go about her duties and interests without any emotional, physical and intellectual barriers.

We quickly realized that Sucharu’s immediate need was to make productive use of her time.

The Helpdesk connected Sucharu with individuals who are living with the same eye-condition, she was provided information about computers and other basic IT courses at Saksham Daksh. We also told her about different online web forums, talking book and audio book facilities, and screen readers and their functions. Sucharu had reservations about using a cane. She did not want her family or anybody else to brand her as ‘Vision Impaired’.

We followed up with her after she had joined a computer course at Saksham Daksh. She now carries a cane and feels that it is symbolic of the fact that she is low-vision and can walk on her own. As he grows up, she also wants her son to know that even though his mother is low-vision, that does not change or take away from who she is. They live, they celebrate, and individually Sucharu is as strong and courageous a woman and a mother as can be.

Khalid Hammed Bhat

Khalid Hammed Bhat is a 23 year old young man from Jammu & Kashmir. Khalid is visually impaired due to the degenerative condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, which his brother and sister also share.

Khalid first heard our radio show, Eyeway Yeh Hai Roshni Ka Karawan, and called the Helpdesk in April 2013. When he contacted us, Khalid was struggling with the imbalance of issues he was trying to juggle; inaccessibility of education, prejudice and ignorance preventing acceptance in society and a lack of self-belief. As a graduate, he was resigned to applying for clerk level jobs which he knew would not allow him to show his full potential.

The Eyeway Helpdesk counselors helped Khalid prioritise his needs and work through his emotions. He knew that he wanted to learn new skills and broaden his education, but didn’t know who to approach for help. He also wanted to work towards a career.

We suggested he take up some training in using screen readers with computers for reading and writing, and that he also work on his mobility and practice his English language skills. We put him in touch with the Mitra Jyothi organistion.

Khalid travelled to Bangalore and took up the training opportunity.

A few weeks later, we called Khalid to seek an update. He is learning computer basics and Spoken English, which will be useful for future work. He mentioned that he gets an hour everyday to talk, the rest of the time he is at the campus, learning and taking his lessons. He mentioned he had even met one of our former colleagues here at Project Eyeway who has moved south, Pranay had counseled Khalid and had suggested that Khalid try Mitra Jyothi.

We were most pleased to hear Khalid talk about what he was doing, not about what he couldn’t.

Mohammed Rihan

When Rihan suddenly lost  his eyesight due to retinal detachment in 2008 he was appearing for his class 12th  exams. His life came to a stand still as his confidence plummeted. He could not think of any job opportunities, as with his meager eligibility of 12th pass along with his deteriorating vision, he was in his mind, virtually unemployable. He became home bound and even feared to step out of his home to nearby places in Lucknow.

When he heard our radio show in February-March 2011, he was motivated to do something productive in his life, like the hoards of other people featured in our Radioshow. This helped him regain his confidence and he started believing in himself once again. Consequently, he contacted us in March 2011 seeking information regarding job placement.

We in turn motivated him to resume his studies, which would lead to a wider scope of job opportunities. We informed him about the usage of computer with the help of screen readers like JAWS, which make work for persons with vision impairment possible. To learn computer with the help of screen reader, we connected him with Rehabilitation Society of the Visually impaired (RSVI) in Lucknow.

Given the fact that he had not lost his vision completely and was able to see to some extent, we suggested him to consult a low vision specialist who could help him to optimally use his residual vision.

On our suggestion, he took admission in computer course in RSVI the very next day after our counselling. He went for a low vision consultation after a month of our counseling in Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital of Lucknow, where he was equipped with a magnifier. Not wanting to waste another moment he enthusiastically took admission in graduation program in May-July 2011.

In his mind the computer training was really helpful to him, because not only did it boost his confidence and make him independent – by enabling him to make notes in class using a computer, it also connected him with many other visually impaired people, which helped him realize the immense potential inside him. On 3rd October 2013, he very cheerfully shared with us that  he is about to finish his 3rd year of graduation. He is also enrolled in computer classes in two NGOs in Lucknow and has cleared 2 “O” level exams in computer on his own merit. He plans to now do either B.Ed or for M.A. degree after his graduation. When we last spoke to him, he thanked Eyeway Helpdesk  for the support, counselling and intervention.

Mukesh Singh

In the past 8 years since the conception of the Helpdesk, our Helpdesk counsellors have always struggled to provide useful information to Helpdesk callers who lose their sight in later years, especially those who are 40 years or over. Our interaction with several callers as well our own information gathering processes point out,that there is a pandemic lack of rehabilitation services for this group of people in India from either NGOs or government organizations.

Mukesh singh (name changed), 48, is a client who has lost complete sight due to retinal damage. Currently living in Patna with his wife and three children, he has been a contractor in the past. Apart from taking construction contracts, he was also engaged in agricultural activities before he became blind.

After watching Nazar ya Nazariya, he saw light at the end of an otherwise long dark tunnel. He was motivated to endeavour to resume independent mobility and once again resume his financial responsibilities. Our helpdesk counseled him to boost his self worth and help him see possibilities of leading an independent life.

After consulting many people, we came across two organizations, Composite Rehabilitation Centre and Bihar Blind Sports Association that provide training to children. Upon request they finally agreed to provide him training as well. However, Mukesh remains dissatisfied with the services rendered. This is due to the fact that these services are not designed to meet the needs of middle aged people, and most of them are designed to meet the needs of younger beneficiaries only.

Therefore, we have suggested him to start his own small business with the help of other family members. We have informed him about loan scheme offered by Bihar as well as central government in relation to self employment. We also referred him to a role model who could better guide him about the nitty gritties of owning and managing a business.

All this however, does not change the fact that rehabilitation services available for people who lose their vision later in life are at best rudimentary. Through our learnings, gathered over a decade, we recognize the need for robust rehabilitation services for such people.

Samad Shah

30-year-old Abdul Samad Shah from Pulwama, Kashmir got to know about us through our radio show- Eyeway Yeh Hai Roshni Ka Karwan in February 2012. He had lost his eyesight in 1977 due to Glaucoma. That year he had passed class 10th and taken admission in class 11th, however, due to poor financial conditions at home, and the search for a cure for his incurable eye disorder he idled away time till late 2012. After spending 15 years at home, his patience and frustration bubbled over, which resulted in a call to the Helpdesk, seeking information about a cure for his eye condition.

When he called Helpdesk on 8th of February 2012, he sounded very distressed and was having suicidal thoughts. Our counselors informed him that as of now his eye disorder is incurable. We then proceeded to counsel him to seek rehabilitation. The several telephonic counseling sessions supported by live examples of our counselor’s own life with blindness and many other examples helped him gain some self confidence. Helpdesk with the support of advocacy team assisted him in scribe’s verification for railway group D post exam closer to home, for which he would otherwise have had to travel to Delhi. Over time we forged a bond of trust and respect with Abdul. Taking the railway exam boosted his self-confidence and he started venturing out independently. He also started applying for more jobs independently. He started approaching government offices and started talking to government officials seeking employment opportunities.

On 24th of December 2013 he informed us, that as a result of all his endeavours, he has been successful in getting a job as a telephone operator’s in the Revenue department of his district.

The case study clearly demonstrates the immense value, the right kind of guidance can create in someones life. Not only were we successful in motivating someone to have a positive outlook and regain his confidence, our counselling has enabled him to be gainfully employed and for the first time in 15 years – happy.

Uzzaiv

Uzzaiv started losing his eyesight due to Retinitis Pigmintosa (a type of degenerative  eye disorder) in 2005 while taking his 1st year B.Com exams. Due to a lack of awareness about provisions for people with blindness, he left his studies as he was beginning to find it difficult to read his books and write his exams on his own.
In order to be self-reliant he started taking home tuitions for classes 1-12. He taught all the subjects till class 10th and English and Commerce subjects for classes 11th and 12th. His father is a retired government servant whose pension is the only source of income for the family other than his tuition fee. By the end of January 2013, his vision has deteriorated to such an extent that he started finding it extremely difficult to read anything even from a very close distance.
On the advice of a Delhi-based disability professional of a well-known NGO, he, at the age of 25, enlisted our help on 29th January 2013 to overcome challenges imposed on him by his deteriorating eyesight.
We, on Helpdesk informed about a variety of topics. From the usage of Braille script to computers enabled with screen reading software which would enable him to read and write despite his deteriorating eyesight. We also suggested that he goes in for rehabilitation, meaning learning to manage his life with blindness by doing the same things with different alternative solutions. For instance, if earlier he used a paper and a pen to write down everything, now he could use either Braille Slate, Stylus and paper or screen reading enabled computer to write and read anything.
In order to move independently, he would need to use a white cane instead of his eyesight. For all this we put him in touch with a Lucknow-based NGO working for people with blindness, called Rehabilitation Society for Visually Impaired (RSVI). However what was most important was for him to get a disability certificate which is required to be able to avail the facility of the rehabilitation course, formal education and acquiring employment. We therefore suggested that he get a disability certificate issued from a district eye hospital in his region.
On the basis of information provided by him, the rehabilitation course could either help him restart his home tuitions or to resume his halted education which would create better earning prospects in the future.
As a result of our suggestions, he did his rehabilitation training from RSVI, and has taken admission in Diploma in Education (DEd) and also resumed his formal education in 2013 itself. He informed us on 18th of February 2014 that he has now become hopeful about a life with better job and other prospects. He has gained confidence due to networking with other people with blindness which has led to little successes in his own life. He is currently also appearing for competitive exams for a job in the government sector.
When we last spoke to him, he was thankful to Eyeway for correct guidance in his time of need when he had almost lost all hope of a self-reliant and fulfilling life due to his deteriorating eyesight. Now he admits that before he came in contact with us, he was very depressed and now after a year, he sees many possibilities for a life with blindness.

Mukesh Jitendra Shah

Mr. Mukesh Jitendra Shah has several medical issues like problems with his knees, high Blood Pressure and diabetes along with 40% blindness in legal terms. He is completely blind in one eye and has 6/28 eyesight in the other eye. Hence, has been considered one eyed due to Diabetic Retinopathy since 2003. Before this, he was employed at SBI Ahmedabad in 1984 as a clerk. He was promoted to scale I officer as Assistant Manager (Systems – dealings in softwares) in 1995. In August 2012 he was again due for promotion on the basis of his seniority, but he was denied the promotion due to him being one eyed. He went for the interview, but was declared unfit during medical examination. SBI issued a circular in July 2012 according to which, either employees having eyesight in one eye or those having degenerative eye disorders are not eligible for promotion. He also informed us that he has been transferred to Junagarh which is 350 km away from his hometown.

The 52-year-old Mukesh from Ahmadabad, Gujarat contacted us in April, 2013 hoping for some respite from his dilemma on the advice of one of our Baroda-based client who had earlier benefited from our help.

He primarily had two problems, the issue regarding transfer and the issue of promotion on the basis of his seniority. He was asked by his office to join the Junagarh branch from April 13th 2013 which is 350 Km away from Ahmedabad. Staying away from his home was difficult for him, as he has a number of medical problems apart from blindness. The Helpdesk apprised him about a circular by Ministry of Finance regarding ‘Exemption from Routine Periodical Transfer of Employees with Disabilities’ which could be used to sway the matter in his favor, since he is an employee with disability in the legal terms. We emailed him the circular right away.

As far as promotion was concerned, we suggested that he give a presentation stating that he is having 40% disability which means he very much comes under the purview of disability according to Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation)Act, 1995. This meant that he was eligible to make use of Section 47’s Clause 2 – ‘No promotion shall be denied to a person merely on the ground of his disability, provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type of work carried on in any establishment, by notification and subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.’

On 19th of February 2014, he informed us that his transfer to Junagarh was cancelled in September 2013 thanks to the circular of Ministry of Finance we have provided him. As far as his promotion was concerned, he was not given promotion inspite of having 40% visual impairment, as according to the bank’s policy one-eyed candidate’s are not eligible promotion, with which he was satisfied and did not make much efforts for promotion.

We would like to take the example of this case to mention that denial of promotion due to degenerative eye disorder does not seem to be logical when there are possibilities of managing most office related tasks with the help of assistive technology. In Mukesh’s case, had his office been a little accommodating and open in their approach, with the simple provision of magnifying softwares, a little faith Mukesh’s capabilities and the desire to invest in him, the task would have been quite doable. This would also have helped many employees with disabilities future from undue discrimination.