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.

A rude shock!

37-year-old Sumit Rakshit is a resident of Delhi. As a working professional, Sumit successfully climbed up the corporate ladder in his 13 years of work with reputed companies. He was responsible for deploying teams to various projects, training, liaising, overseeing offshore transitions and several other tasks attached to his managerial role.

Sumit quite enjoyed his work as well as the respect that came with the position. Four years ago, Sumit suddenly started losing vision. This threw him off-guard and thereon started a saga of medical shopping. During the course of his multiple surgeries, Sumit lost his job. Ultimately the doctors told him that his eye condition was uncorrectable and degenerative.

But Sumit refused to accept his impairment and he continued to see doctors with faint hope. One of the doctors fortunately redirected him to Eyeway, which was going to be the beginning of his transformation.

Initially Sumit was very reluctant to accept himself as a person with disability. He refused to get a proper assessment done so he could be issued a Disability Certificate, based on which he could avail employment opportunities and other programmes. But persistent counseling by the Eyeway team slowly helped him take the right steps forward.

Over the past one year of engaging with Eyeway, Sumit has realized that he can continue to work as there are millions of people like him, who continue living normal lives despite their vision impairment. He is now actively hunting for jobs. Eyeway has also put him in touch with organizations, recruitment agencies and other NGOs which facilitate employment for visually impaired people.

But Sumit needs to further prepare himself for total sight loss. At present he wears correctional glasses which helps him read and move around with little help. He hasn’t yet fully accepted the need to reorient himself and acquire skills to function as a totally blind person. Eyeway has recommended him to undergo mobility and computer training so the scope of his independence and employment opportunities will widen.

He believes once he gets back to a work environment, he will learn to adapt and retrain himself. When he called Eyeway, Sumit was confused and angry with the sudden turn of events, but today he is more calm and willing to give everything a chance.

It’s never too late!

18 years of age, Somnath Chandra has never stepped out of the house on his own. He has never seen the sight of a school or undergone any form of learning. Blind by birth, Somnath hails from a farmer family in Korba, Chhattisgarh.

As soon as his parents realized that their child was blind, they thought life was over for him even before it started. Somnath sat inside the four walls, not knowing what to do with his time and life.

Neither Somnath nor his family were aware of ways of educating a blind child.  They believed in the general societal notions of disability leading to total dependency. It never occurred to them that their visually impaired son could also ‘do’ something.

Listening to an audio channel called ‘Hamari Vaani’ for persons with disabilities, Somnath learnt about Eyeway, a helpline for persons with blind people. When he spoke to the Eyeway counselor, Somnath wanted to know all about life with blindness. He had questions about educational opportunities, if blind people could move around independently, and if they could carry out their daily activities without any sighted help.

After the counselor explained how all the above were possible and there was more to life despite his blindness, Somnath became both curious and hopeful. We helped him understand what his interests were so we could guide him accordingly. He said he wanted to attend school but he was already over age by regular school standards. As an alternative we suggested he enroll for open schooling, following which he could pursue higher education via mainstream channels. Alongside, Eyeway apprised him of ways to access his course material, by taking help from family members in reading out notes as well as using certain assistive devices.

Apart from studying, Somnath needed reorientation and appropriate training which would equip him with the confidence of moving around on his own, using computers and performing all daily tasks independently. While Somnath has already started his distance education from CBSE, he will enroll in the next batch of rehabilitative training at Blind Relief Association in Delhi.

A spectacular turnaround!

Ravi Dahayat was born blind to a low income family in Katni, Madhya Pradesh. He was confined to his home for a whole 27 years before he came in touch with Eyeway.

Ravi never attended school, didn’t have any friends, and was totally dependent on his family. Unaware of how to raise or educate a child with vision impairment, his parents assumed they would need to simply provide for him.

It was a chance meeting with Vidyasagar, an old Eyeway client that turned Ravi’s life around. He called the Eyeway helpline and asked about education and training options for blind people.

After extensive sessions of counseling and nearly two years of training in Delhi, Ravi is a changed man. He can move around on his own using a smart cane, he can operate computer using screen reading software and moreover, he has cleared Class X exams from National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

Back in Katni, the same community now looks at him in awe when Ravi uses his smartphone enabled with talk back feature to do a host of things. He uses different applications on the phone to navigate, access social media and send messages. People who wrote him off as a liability, now regard him for his abilities.

Having gone through a swift transformation in the past couple of years, Ravi has garnered a dream. Once he finishes his further education and gains some form of employment, he wishes to start an institute for blind children in his hometown. He feels access to proper education can prevent blind children from losing out on opportunities to lead an independent life despite blindness.

As opposed to numerous years of isolation, today Ravi feels ‘accepted and included’ in the main stream of things.

But Ravi isn’t the only one who lost out because of blindness. There are many like him in different parts of India who might be a phone call away from opportunities in life. Eyeway is determined to reach out and help them.

Curious to learn!

A resident of Kota in Rajasthan, Pawan Mahawar became visually impaired when he was only four years old. Although he comes from a reasonably well-to-do family, no one ever guided Pawan on how to pursue his life or education after blindness. He simply sat at home, being taken care of by his parents and sibling.

The continuous feeling of boredom and worthlessness pushed Pawan to start a grocery shop as he turned 13. He was successfully running the shop for four years but he wasn’t happy. Like other boys his age, he desired to be educated. He saw his friends go to school and learn new things every day. He felt deprived of this normalcy due to his blindness.

One day, listening to a mobile audio service called Hamari Vaani, Pawan heard a message from Eyeway which talked about living life with blindness. His desires rekindled and he called our toll-free helpline with a flurry of questions.

Pawan was keen on going to school but he was already 17 years of age. Eyeway advised him to appear for Class X through an open board following which he could enter mainstream education. He immediately enrolled and was guided how to study with help from organizations that provide accessible study material.

Having cleared Class X exams, Pawan was admitted to a regular school and he is currently pursuing his last year of schooling. During this time, he has been in constant touch with our counselors who have helped him with course material, assistive devices, scribes to help him write his exams etc. Eyeway also put him in touch with another visually impaired person who is an old Eyeway associate, to offer him local guidance in Rajasthan.

Today Pawan feels he is geared up to take on the world just like his sighted friends.

Up and about after a lull of 13 years!

36-year-old Halesh HS lives in Shivamogga city of Karnataka. He was employed as a welder for four years before he lost his eye sight in an ammonia gas explosion at work. The accident left him unemployed and entirely dependent on his family for the following 13 years.

Life had come to a stand still for Halesh, with no one in his family aware of what possibly he could pursue in life despite the vision loss. Fortunately, one day Halesh chanced upon an audio message regarding a mobility tool for blind people. An audio service run for disabled people in Karnataka called, Namma Vaani relayed information on a mobile app that could help blind people find their way around. Halesh was excited to hear this and also a wave of curiosity ran through his mind. He immediately called the number listed on that message and reached Eyeway.

Through the next series of calls, Eyeway counselor apprised Halesh of various aspects of living life with blindness. Halesh realized that he too could lead an independent life given proper training that could help him reorient his ways. He wanted to be employed again. Eyeway recommended a rehabilitation training in Bangalore, where he learnt mobility skills, coping with basic daily needs as well as some vocational skills.

Having undergone the necessary training, Halesh was ready to move around on his own. With his newly acquired skills, Halesh found employment for himself in a nursery. Today he feels dignified and confident when he comes home from work, as he is once again capable of contributing to the family.

The right to choose!

Majority of our society deems persons with vision impairment to be worthless, as the general perception is that they cannot be educated or employed like their sighted counterparts. Even people who teach visually impaired children in special schools often believe that their career choices are limited to arts stream. So a lot of blind children stop studying mathematics and science after Class 8.

The ones who are determined to take up unconventional options hit several stumbling blocks. This story talks of one such student in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Gomtesh Gandhi has an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa by birth, which results in gradual loss of vision. Since the age of 7, Gomtesh was educated in special school for deaf and blind children.

While he could study most subjects using braille script or audiobooks, he faced difficulty in grasping symbols used in Maths. But nonetheless, Gomtesh managed to score 84% in his Class X exams and decided to opt for science stream.

By this time, Gomtesh had lost 90% of his vision, which meant that studying physics and chemistry would be quite difficult. But not impossible. He was determined to score well but taking science practicals could prove tricky with his blindness.

He reached out to Eyeway to seek clarity on the matter. Our counselor apprised Gomtesh of CBSE guidelines that exempt visually impaired people from taking practical exams. Instead they can be handed an alternate question paper to assess their knowledge of the subject. Gomtesh was further relieved after he heard the accounts of several other visually impaired students who had managed to pursue higher studies and careers in different sciences.

We hope Gomtesh can pick options depending on his aptitude and not limited by what the ill-informed education system throws at him.

Striving towards financial independence

24-year-old Farman Khan is a visually impaired resident of Thane, Maharashtra. He completed his schooling from a mainstream institution and enrolled for graduation in 2016. Next, he worked in a BPO for 9 months but he had to quit due to some health issues. A few months later, Farman started facing vision problems resulting in difficulty to read and write. When he visited an eye specialist, he was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). It is an eye disorder that’s transmitted from the mother to the offspring, causing the loss of central vision. He consulted with many doctors but soon realized that his eye condition was incurable.
A lack of eye sight as well as employment left Farman dejected and hopeless. In 2019, he got married to a sighted woman who worked as a college professor. He wanted to be financially independent and contribute towards his family’s financial needs. He contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk to seek employment opportunities. Our counselor on understanding his needs, advised Farman to start by making use of assistive technology. By learning how to use a computer and a smartphone, he could access a lot more information, resulting in decreased dependence on others. To help with basic skills training, he was asked to enroll at the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind where he could pursue courses under the Maharashtra State Certificate of Information Technology (MSCIT). To join the two-month computer course, he was asked to submit his disability certificate.
However, he had faced difficulty in obtaining his disability certificate, as the doctors in the civil hospital could not identify his eye condition. Therefore, he was suggested to register on the Swavlamban website and apply for a UDID card instead. Following which he was asked to submit the application form at the civil hospital to obtain his disability certificate. Farman hopes to start with his course soon.

Assistive technology for ease of work

Dhavan Umredkar is a 47-year-old visually impaired person from Nagpur, Maharashtra. In 1996, he was employed in one of the departments under the Central Government. Unfortunately, ten years later, Dhavan started experiencing sight loss and was later diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. His gradually deteriorating vision slowed his pace of work, which led to his transfer to a different department that required non-technical work. However, the lack of basic skills training made him face many challenges.

A few years later, he read an article about a visually impaired person who uses assistive technology to live life with blindness. The Editor of the newspaper put him in touch with the Eyeway Helpdesk. Our helpline counselor apprised him of the various kinds of assistive technology and their uses in daily living and work situations. Soon, he learnt how to operate a computer using a screen reader, video magnifier, optical character recognition (OCR) software, etc. all of which helped him carry out his work efficiently.

He connected with Eyeway again to obtain a government circular that states the provision of assistive aid to persons with disabilities. The counselor informed him about the guidelines under the Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) and sent him a soft copy highlighting the important points. He forwarded the same to his senior officials who then sanctioned his request. However, the OCR software he was provided with scanned only documents written in English and most of his documents were either in Hindi or Marathi. Dhavan shared his concern with the counselor and was doubtful about convincing his seniors to allocate funds to buy another OCR software.

For this reason, the counselor assisted him in drafting an application to his administration stating the need for a Marathi reading OCR and requesting them to provide for the same. The counselor also made him understand that it is the duty of the government to help in making workplaces accessible for all and that he should not hesitate to request for what is necessary. He was also told to attach his medical certificate in support of his application. Dhavan was thankful to the Eyeway team for their timely support and guidance.