Rediscovering by ambitions

Doreyappa is 35 years old and is a resident of Hassan district in Karnataka. He lost his eyesight due to Retina Detachment when he was in school. He has studied only till 7th standard. He could not continue his studies further both due to poverty and the onset of visual impairment. His father was a farmer and mother was a daily wager. He relied on parents to live after starting to lose his vision and never worked until he got married.

After getting married it dawned on him that he needs to work and run his own family. He started off as a gardener in a college in a Chikamangalur. He worked there for around 7 years. When he joined the gardening job, Doreyappa had low vision but during the course of the job, he turned completely blind. As a result he was laid-off. When he recently learnt about Eyeway, he decided to call our helpline for support.

On connecting with the counselor he was informed about Aadhar Yojana Scheme of the State Government under which he can get Rs. 5000 to set-up his own petty shop. He was also informed to contact his village Panchayat to avail the state scheme. He followed the counselor’s suggestion and took advantage of the scheme to setup a small shop of his own.

Recently he called the Helpdesk as a more confident man wanting to enhance his business. This time the counselor understanding his ambitions suggested Enable India’s Self-Employment programme. The programme on completion would certify his skills and provide a bigger loan to enhance the business. Though Doreyappa was keen on taking this up, he couldn’t join the programme on a short notice.

Eyeway on follow-up understood that his major obstacle was that the training was conducted 400 kms away from his village and he was not in a position to leave his family for a span of few months. The counselor empathized with his problem and suggested some alternate bank loans as an immediate solution to his problem.

Late blind and kept in the dark

Soman a 59 year old man from Ernakulum in Kerala contacted Eyeway Helpdesk at Little Flower Hospital (LFH), Angamaly. He was referred to the Helpdesk by the doctors of the hospital. Up until four years ago he worked as a truck driver and provided for his family comprising his wife, daughter and a son without any hiccups.

Owing to a nerve damage, he turned blind four years ago and his life took a turn for the worse. He has been estimated a vision loss of more than 80% by the LFH doctors. This has prevented him from driving anymore and has pulled brakes in his income. His son works but stays away from the family thus not financially supporting Soman. The only source of income now for the family is his daughter’s income. That also is not going to be permanent since she will be married off in the future.

Soman seemed unclear of his life ahead in his conversations with the Eyeway counselor. Late blindness has taken him by shock, clouding his thoughts. Our counselor guided him to enroll for rehabilitation training in Kerala Federation for the Blind (KFB). He was also suggested to get a Disability Certificate at the earliest so he can officially gain access to government schemes and provisions as a visually impaired person. Heeding to the recommendations made by Eyeway, Soman has joined the rehabilitation training programme at KFB. Once he completes his training, we will be able to further guide him on possibilities of getting back to work and life.

Zeroing in on accessibility

Priya is a 26 years old girl from Jaipur, Rajasthan. She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) during her early childhood. RP is a progressive eye disorder gradually causing complete vision loss. Her limited vision did not stop her from studying till graduation in mainstream institutions. She studied in Hindi medium throughout.

She relied on her friends, family and teachers for her studies. They helped her by reading out notes and explaining to her the contents of her syllabus. But after graduation she faced a five year gap before she could make a decision about her life further. This due to progressive loss of vision and a phase of hopelessness she experienced doubting her potential to be independent.  She heard about Eyeway and the toll-free helpline for the first time from a promotion on the radio. Since the she has connected with Eyeway over many issues like accessible technology, employment opportunities and so on. During those interactions our counselor assisted her in learning to use the smartphone and using computers with the help of assistive technology.

She enrolled for a post-graduation in Law in 2017. Recently she connected to Eyeway with a challenge she is facing in her education. She is unable to find her Law course books in accessible format in Hindi language. Majority of the books in accessible formats are in English and Priya has studied Hindi medium thus making it difficult for her to access her course material.  She has also not studied Braille to access such books if available. Only those Law books pertaining to her syllabus in Hindi language which are accessible can be useful for her.

After comprehending the issue, our counselor put Priya in touch with a Pune-based volunteer group named ‘Yashowani’ in order to get her books audio recorded. This group records books free of cost. Yashowani has helped her by recording many books though more recordings are pending. Since she has to give her exams in the month of May 2018 she is also looking for readers’ help.

The problem she is facing is part of the bigger issue of accessibility for the disabled. This particular issue emphasizes the need for books being available in accessible formats in regional languages.

Inflexible by conventions

Abdul Sattar 35 years old is a resident of Bijnor, UP. He is in touch with Eyeway since 2016. He has been calling Eyeway seeking employment opportunities. He belongs to a low income family, and is married with two daughters. His girls are I and 4 years old. Abdul is completely uneducated.

He remained unemployed and confined because of ignorance and unawareness. He assumed he had to lead is life based on charity and whatever support was provided by his family and society. He never thought of being self-reliant and independent. He lived on the meager income his wife could make by beedi making and selling which was a mere Rs.25 to Rs.30 per day.

After multiple interactions with Eyeway counselor Abdul started was encouraged to take up the job of a peon in a nearby school. But owing to some personal reasons he gave up the job within a month. On further probing our counselor understood that he was actually seeking a job for his wife and not for himself. During 2016 when he was in contact with Eyeway, the counselor guided him to the Panchayat of his village to avail employment under MNREGA. He resisted, coming up with excuses that such jobs are not suitable for a visually impaired person. But our counselor persisted and also communicated the need to assure Satar a job under MGNREGA to the Sarpanch of the village. The Sarpanch after his enquiry into Satar’s family informed the counselor that they possess the necessary documents but he is not ready to work on a follow-up call.

During the latest conversation with him, counselor suggested Satar to join Sunny Piplani’s sports goods manufacturing plant in Meerut as an alternative if he is reluctant to take up a job under MNREGA. We hope that we will be able to convince Abdul Satar to act towards becoming independent and self-reliant.

Relentless support for visually impaired

Elza Joseph who works with the NGO Pardada Pardadi Educational Society in Anoopshahar, UP contacted Eyeway on behalf of two visually impaired students. Both these children are blind by birth due to retinal detachment. The NGO caters to the needs of poor and disabled girls by providing them with accommodation, education, training and life skills.

Sneha is one among the girl children who is blind and has been in the care of the NGO. She has studied till 7th standard and now the NGO has been looking to put her in a school outside their guardianship. Also, Lalit an 11 year boy who is blind approached the NGO for assistance to start his schooling. Elza Joseph who works with the NGO connected with Eyeway for appropriate education assistance for both these children. Eyeway counselor suggested Elza to connect with an organization in Delhi called Silver Linings run by Preeti Monga who is herself visually impaired seeking assistance for Sneha. As for Lalit, our counselor recommended to get in touch with All India Confederation for the Blind (AICB).

On follow-up it was understood that Sneha joined Silver Linings while Lalit couldn’t join AICB since the project for the blind had recently terminated there. Eyeway suggested an alternative in Jayati Bharatam Lucknow, UP which also didn’t work out for Lalit due to distance and transportation issues. Lalit’s parents were not willing to send him away from home. Finally they themselves arranged for admission in Amar Colony Institution for the Blind, Delhi. His parents were relieved that they could put Lalit in the care of their relatives and family in Delhi. Unfortunately this also didn’t work out due to some age barriers set by the school.

Eyeway has been relentlessly trying to help out Lalit and has connected him now to National Association for the Blind, Meerut and is eagerly waiting for a response.

The enigma of inaccessible banks

Sangameshwar Sangundi is 20 years old. He is from Borati near Solapur in Maharashtra. He belongs to a low income family of five people. He is the eldest among three other siblings. He had normal vision till the age of 6 years until he contracted jaundice which adversely affected his eyes. As a result, cornea in one eye was damaged leading to a complete vision loss and he lost partial vision in the other eye. On consultation, the doctor suggested that the eye with partial vision could regain better vision in the long run. Doctor left eye operation as an optional decision to the family. They chose not to undergo the operation at that point.

His family was very supportive and never gave up on him. He was put to school for the first time at 8 years in Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Blind School, Solapur. There he studied till sixth standard. He always believed that he didn’t belong to a special school which made him shift to a mainstream school after sixth standard in 2012. At the same time he connected with National Association for the Blind (NAB), Solapur and took up vocational courses like candle making, chalk making, weaving chair, file making and book binding. He also started conducting training sessions for other trainees at NAB.

He stayed in NAB hostel while pursuing school in 11th standard and being a trainer there. He came to know about Eyeway through social media. Since then he has frequently connected to Eyeway over various issues like employment, scribe related guidelines, etc. He recently contacted the Helpdesk because he was facing denied an ATM card by Bank of Maharashtra. He applied twice or thrice but was rejected each time on grounds of his visual impairment.

On understanding his struggle the Eyeway counselor shared with him the IBA and RBI guidelines that specify the rules related to the issue. When he produced the circulars the bank authorities couldn’t deny him the service. But what turned out odd was the undignified treatment he was put to by the Bank Manager. The Manager himself took to verifying the disability of Sangameshwar by making him perform some accessibility tasks. He was asked to prove himself capable of using a mobile phone, internet facility etc.

It is not within the authority of the bank officials to resort to such acts and could become harassment in worst cases. Though Sangameshwar didn’t react contrary to what he was asked he surely felt insulted. Many similar discriminatory cases where visually impaired are denied services by banks have occurred and continue to occur. This is mainly because of the ignorance and unawareness on the part of the bank officials. Only proper training and knowledge dissemination can fix these problems and alter people’s mindsets towards disability.

Empowering by example

Sheru Patel a totally blind 24 year old man from Aurangabad, Maharashtra contacted Eyeway on behalf of two visually impaired students who are in his NGO’s care. Sheru is running an NGO called ‘Apang Bal Kalyan Bahuddeshiya Samantha’ in Aurangabad for visually impaired boys. The NGO caters to education, training and rehabilitation needs of the visually impaired poor and rural children.

Sheru became totally blind when he was 11 years old while studying in a mainstream school in Aurangabad.  He was prescribed treatment but it turned futile for him, rendering his eye condition incurable. Later with the support of NAB, Mumbai he gained vocational training to be an electrician. During the same time he finished his schooling.  It was his stint in Germany where he went for higher studies on a scholarship that changed his perspective entirely.  There he encountered with the struggles faced by visually impaired people leading him to decide to work more closely with them. This made him come back to India and start the NGO in 2013.

He called Eyeway seeking recourse for two students his NGO has been supporting for the last two years. Easwar Gaekwar pursuing his 9th standard and Gajanand his 12th standard are the two students, Sheru called for. These two students were denied scribe facility in giving their board exams. The school was unaware that visually impaired students could get such assistance. Eyeway counselor duly guided Sheru in finding the scribe related government document.

Sheru could make use of the document which was submitted to the school with the disability certificate of both the students. As a result, the school acknowledged the documents, allowing the students to give their exams using a scribe for assistance. Sheru called us back and shared his gratitude for the supporr provided by our Helpdesk counselor.

Woman with disability: How worse can it get?

Teena is 34 years old and an 80% visually impaired woman. She contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk from Hapur, Uttar Pradesh. She came to know about the Helpdesk from an acquaintance of hers. She belongs to a farmer family and she is youngest to two elder brothers. She experienced eye-related problems since birth and her vision kept deteriorating. She managed to study up till her MA in Sociology pursuing her education in mainstream institutions.

Immediately after studies she found a job of a playschool teacher and later worked in a financial company as a tele caller before she got married at 24 years. She lived with her husband and in-laws for ten years in Bulandshahr, UP before she was forced out of the relationship. The reasons were nothing new, neither to her nor to her husband’s family. They knew and had agreed to her significant health conditions before marriage. She had a pregnancy related health condition which left her incapable of conceiving alongside having a worsening eye-sight.

But in ten years the circumstances changed. She became a burden for her husband’s family on multiple fronts. The fact that she couldn’t bear a child, her vision kept deteriorating further, and she was financially dependent started to bother her in-laws. This made the family turn hostile towards her. She couldn’t understand the accusations because she hid nothing from her husband about her heath conditions. In fact, she gave up her job in the interests of her husband’s family.

Insensitive to her circumstances, they sent her back to her parents in Hapur. She contacted Eyeway in the middle of this crisis. She called us in fear and despair for her life ahead. Her major concern was financial independence which was not easy for a woman unemployed for the past ten years. Eyeway on comprehending her ordeal suggested her to upgrade her skills. For this the counselor suggested her to enroll for a Computer Training programme in Samarthanam Trust, Delhi.

She moved to Delhi in October 2017 and started living with her uncle’s family in Faridabad. She joined Samarthanam for the training and also found a job as a tele caller with a BPO in Okhla, Delhi. On Eyeway’s follow-up it was known that she is currently working and undergoing the training simultaneously but still remained unsure of her future. She shared her fears which are rooted in the biased social norms, like how can a woman survive with so many ‘limitations’.

Eyeway has put confidence into Teena to overcome the immediate phase of struggle and gradually take over her life. Our Helpdesk counselors will continue to be in touch with her to guide her to transition into a self-reliant woman once again.