Rebuilding life over the rubble heap of defeats

Sushil and Ankur grew up together, two visually impaired boys from Kishanganj, Bihar. They played, studied and spent much time together. They went to school together and were both very poor. Sushil’s father picks up garbage for a living. These boys studied till 8th class in a mainstream school, with a scribe to write exams and some teachers for extra help. But they had to stop after 8th class because they no more options for higher education were available in their village and they had no finances to travel any farther. After halting school in 2010, they stayed home idle for the next 6 years.

They hardly had any awareness about studying further and no opportunities to find any relevant information. Coincidently Sushil heard about Eyeway on radio and contacted us. He and Atul were in contact with Eyeway initially but Atul on a whim aborted the communication with Eyeway and left Sushil’s company for an opportunity he got away from the village. This affected Sushil and also impacted the engagement with Eyeway.
After emotionally empowering Sushil and sharing practical possibilities, he was provided with information to pick up his life from where he had left off. Atul had a reason to leave because he was 3 years elder to 18 years old Sushil and he wanted a job while Sushil wanted to pursue his education.

This form of reasoning improved Sushil’s state of mind. And he was provided with information pertaining to rehabilitative training conducted by Blind Relief Association (BRA), Delhi exclusively for those visually impaired people who have missed out on schooling or marginally educated. This was to equip them with relevant industry skills in a one year program. Some skills covered under this program include bookbinding, paper craft, basic massage training, chair caning, sewing, etc. Also, training for personality development, Braille, music, computer, mobility etc. is conducted at BRA. Essential contact for communication was also shared with Sushil. At the same time, he was also informed that he could pursue his school education through NIOS open schooling.

On follow-up, it was understood that Sushil welcomed Eyeway’s suggestions and is set to join the program at BRA in July. Sushil had the will but only lacked an opportunity which we directed him towards. Now that Eyeway has guided him with the right opportunities and information to make use of, nothing less than success can be wished for him.

A life of true grit

It is challenging for a woman in India to surmount the social and cultural perils in this country and if you are disabled things get even worse.  The opportunities fade away and the doors shut on you harder. But Pavitra from Sindagi city in Karnataka proves that it could be different. She happens to be quite a fighter.

23-year-old Pavitra lost her eyesight due to jaundice when she was 4 years old. Her parents pursued doctors for the next 4 years trying to recover her vision but to no avail. They became extremely protective of her since then. They refused to send her anywhere alone far from their home. Thus, she developed a lack of confidence in her personality given her circumstances.

But otherwise, she has done well in life. Born into a poor family background, with her father a daily wager as the only earning member and as the elder sister to three younger brothers, the support she has got and the challenges she has overcome are inspirational.

Pavitra was sent to the nearby government school after few years of futile treatment. She studied braille simultaneously, accessed all her syllabus books in Braille and successfully completed 12th and now she is doing her under graduation through distance learning. Also, she is learning computer from Bartimaeus Resource Centre for the Blind, Bangalore. But the financial challenges have crept back into her life. Whenever she was faced with a roadblock, she has dealt with it strongly. This time also she found a solution and it was Eyeway.

She contacted Eyeway seeking support to push ahead that will equip her financially to tackle her challenges and help pursue her education. Eyeway was impressed by Pavitra’s determination to succeed. Our counselor provided a viable solution in Ambubai Residential School for Blind Girls, Gulbarga which would offer support for her higher education and also provide employment opportunity when she finishes her studies. And to begin with, it will be a computer-based job for which she is already taking training.

Such determination is remarkable, to remain undaunted in the face of challenges to her gender, disability, and poverty, Pavitra is a true inspiration to several visually impaired women out there.

A new chapter, a new beginning

18-year-old Akthar Hussain had never heard of the possibility of a visually impaired person attending school until he contacted Eyeway. He had never heard of education, employment or accessibility opportunities available for persons with visual impairment.

Born into a large family of seven members, where his father, a tailor and the only earning member, Akthar lives a difficult life every day. His disability has made the family situation more depressing. Poverty, illiteracy, and disability have left this family in perennial despair and depression. Due to all these conditions, Akthar was not much cared for and was in isolation while growing up. Television, radio and the neighborhood friends were his only solace. His parents did not care much. They never sent him out of the house anywhere thus he never went to a school or travelled anywhere beyond Ramgarh, Jharkhand where he was born.

But it was radio and his friends who initiated the beginnings of a new aspiration in him. Akthar heard about Eyeway on ‘Hamari Vaani’, a rural social networking platform, in an audio about the smart cane. His curiosity was kindled and with the support of his friends, Akthar called the Eyeway helpline, thereby beginning a new chapter in his life. He contacted Eyeway to know more about the smart cane so that he could move around independently. But the Eyeway counselor’s intervention bared a lot of important details about his family, finances, and education. It was understood that he didn’t even have a disability certificate. Promptly Akthar was informed of the importance of being medically assessed and certified for availing all the schemes, provisions and benefits he deserves.

He was also made to understand the importance of getting educated and the possibility of still effectively finishing it despite having lost so many years. For this, the counselor connected him with Blind Relief Association (BRA), and National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun wherefrom he could gain rehabilitation and vocational training to improve his future prospects. Eyeway’s intervention brought an unprecedented excitement into his life. To imagine that he could travel and get educated provided much joy to him and his family. His family has agreed to send him out for education on being convinced by Eyeway.

On a follow-up, it was understood that Akthar is set to join NIVH in July to pursue his education. This is a great step forward that will bring about a positive change in his life.

Accessibility, an ailing issue for the disabled

Accessibility related issues remain to be a speck in public and private infrastructure development even after the significance of universal design and accessible technology being recognized globally. It is not just for persons with disabilities but also for persons whose mobility is affected by old-age, pregnancy, injury etc. Access to information and assistive technology are also integral to maintaining general accessibility. Many public and private infrastructure designs seem to be ignorant of the responsibility to meet the social and economic needs of the people. Eyeway in Mumbai during the month of May received complaints from visually impaired persons who have been deprived of useful information from the railway offices regarding concession cards, ticket information, rectification of errors and various applications.

Nitin Galande, a financially poor resident of Pune who could have made use of some significant information during his travel, was never guided by the Railways office. Nitin had applied for an online concession form which takes three months to be activated and while waiting for it he had to urgently travel from Pune to Hyderabad. But when Nitin visited the Divisional Railway Manager’s (DRM) office, he never received any information about the offline concession card which could be used in the meantime and still avail the concession.

Subhash Gawai, a 45 year visually impaired person was denied the facility to apply for the concession card stating the service is not available at that particular point in the DRM’s office. Similarly, many more clients called up the Eyeway Helpdesk for similar such issues. This prompted our counselor to visit the Railways office to understand the problem in detail. It was easily cognizable that the cooperation and services offered to visually impaired persons were negligible. Though the counselor assisted these people with desirable information or application forms uploaded on the Eyeway website, this is a lapse at the railway authority’s end that needs a permanent fix.

Traveling across the territory in India is a constitutionally guaranteed right and access to information and technology is guaranteed under the RPWD Act 2016. Such issues are blatant violations of basic functional human rights and of an immense magnitude.

Stoking a spark to a glow

When Sachin Bansal from Madhya Pradesh gave up his schooling after 9th standard for a laborer’s job in a factory, he only thought of saving his family from severe financial troubles. For many youngsters in India, an early employment is more important than schooling because our education system doesn’t guarantee employment. He toiled for many years to care for his father, mother and younger brother. But in 2015 he met with an accident and lost his vision completely, leaving Sachin and his family in an irrecoverable shock. They all tried hard to recover his lost vision for the next two to three years, consulting as many doctors as possible. But the reality dawned hard on them during those years, of irreversible blindness, poverty, and utter loss of hope. But somewhere Sachin left a spark aglow.

In 2018 when Sachin contacted Eyeway, he was 24 years old and an individual who had pretty much accepted his blindness. The need for a productive future was already in his mind. He wanted an immediate job and was ready to achieve it by all means.  Knowing that computer training is essential he contacted Eyeway for some viable training recommendations. But since the 12th standard is essential for computer training, the Eyeway counselor suggested workable options like rehabilitation training in National Association for the Blind (NAB), Indore and an opportunity to pursue education in National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). However NAB, Indore denied hostel facility because of his age and Sachin couldn’t pursue that option. Eyeway then suggested two other options in National Institute of Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun and Blind Relief Association (BRA), New Delhi. This time the counselor contacted these institutions and made sure that there will be ensured admission as well as accommodation. This solution would have allowed Sachin to simultaneously pursue computer training and school education.

Sachin, however, preferred more local solutions in Madhya Pradesh because he wanted to stay close to his family. But many of those didn’t work out due to lack of facilities and future prospects. Thus, he decided to stay with his relatives in Agra and pursue schooling in a special school in Agra, setting aside Eyeway’s suggestions. But this didn’t resolve his problems. The special school in Agra forbade him from attending any training. This school was of the opinion that education and training will not complement each other. When he informed Eyeway about this, the counselor didn’t agree with the view, because for many visually impaired who have lost years of education due to lack of awareness, a twin program of education and training is a proven and optimal solution. To empower people to overcome the challenges of unfinished education, financial problems, and to help find jobs faster such programs have been quite effective. This view is also maintained by many state and national institutions working for the visually impaired people which offer such solutions. Eyeway tried its best to assist Sachin through a quicker and effective plan but his priority to be closer to a family member couldn’t be ignored.

Eyeway sincerely hopes that Sachin will gain more confidence and become more independent in the long-run.

An issue of large import

The first job is always hard and being a visually impaired person, it was harder for Janardhan. After surmounting the obstacles of being born blind, ill-fitting at a mainstream school, and challenged at his first job, Janardhan from Ahmednagar, Pune was at ease till a few months before.

Born into a middle-class family of four, Janardhan’s blindness devastated his parents. For a very long time, his parents couldn’t accept Janardhan’s vision loss. They put him in a mainstream school at the age of five but he failed to get accustomed to the sighted children and the visual teaching methods in school. He had to drop out after a brief period of schooling there. At the same time, his parents continued their attempts to treat Janardhan’s sight loss. They took him to see many doctors in and around Pune hoping for a solution, but to no avail. During these frequent travels, they got to know about Poona Blind School in Koregaon and admitted Janardhan there at the age of seven. Here he started his education anew and this time to much avail. After successfully completing his 10th standard, he finished 12th standard from PVV College in Loni, Ahmednagar and trained himself in steno-typing and telephone operation from National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai.
After schooling and some skill-specific training, he took up some private jobs while simultaneously hunting for a government job. After much patience and a long wait, he cleared the exam and interview for the post of Lower Division Clerk in Central Ordnance Depot (COD). But towards the last stages of recruitment, he was denied the job stating that it is for 40% disabled and not for anyone with a disability above that. After a lot of struggle, seeking help through Social Justice Department and Pune Blind Men’s Association which in turn communicated with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), he was able to get the particular job. He was appointed as LD clerk but the challenges were not over for Janardhan.

Eyeway has dealt with many cases where visually impaired employees face challenges to record their attendance in government offices leading to them losing out on their leave, salary etc. This is an important issue because many government offices ignore the accessibility factor for visually impaired when it comes to marking attendance. In some offices, it’s a register where attendance is to be marked physically while others have a biometric system installed. Both these practices have their inherent flaws because a majority of VIs rely on ‘thumb impression’ or if it is a biometric system there must be audio guidance system.  In Janardhan’s case, he had to physically mark his attendance daily in a register and failing this affected his job. He was taking help from his colleague to do so. Soon he was instructed to sign by the Head of his department and in the case of the contrary endangering his record of attendance at the job. He requested to allow the option of ‘thumb impression’ which was denied too. He called Eyeway at this juncture for support.

Eyeway has previously intervened and taken up such cases for advocacy by communicating directly with the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) and MSJE. Such interventions have also been fruitful, with many unaware offices and department heads being made to understand the magnitude of the issue and thus implementing a recourse. This is a problem of import which the government and policymakers have to look into, as it is also a violation of the RPWD Act 2016. In Janardhan’s case since the COD is planning to revamp the practice into a biometric system, Eyeway is waiting for more information before taking the case up for advocacy.

New horizons at the end of the road

When 18-year-old Govind Tripathi (name changed) from Agra, Uttar Pradesh contacted Eyeway, the prospects of helping him seemed difficult. He connected with a preconceived plan and he wanted Eyeway’s assistance only in the manner he anticipated. Govind wanted education and career-related assistance from Eyeway.  He is a computer enthusiast and he wanted to know how Eyeway could help him become a techie in a multi-national corporation (MNC). Eyeway always strives for the best and viable solutions for the visually impaired clients.
The challenge with such clients is that they require counseling on a range of issues. Their primary issues could be education or employment or accessibility but emotional counseling is sometimes more important. Their ideas can be very abstract, even stubborn, guided by lack of information. They need to be primarily made flexible to viable and realistic goals and then provided with options to achieve those. Govind also was driven by this lack of information and abstract ideas.

Govind, younger among the brothers, from a small-town lower-middle-class family, started his schooling from a blind school in Agra where he studied till 1st standard. After that, his parents shifted him to National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH) in Dehradun looking for a better quality education with accommodation. But his schooling ended abruptly when he met with repeated accidents resulting in leg fractures while pursuing 4th standard. This affected his mobility and confidence. He was brought home by his parents and stayed at home nursing his health for the next four years.

Having nothing much to do but to remain patient till he gained mobility and confidence, he scouted for ways to engage his mind in some alternate activities. This led him to pick an interest in computers which was first introduced to him in NIVH. He started spending most of his time working on it, largely surfing the internet. With his growing interest, he hired a private tutor and learned the ‘C’ programming computer software during the same time. At the end of four years in 2016, after regaining the majority of his mobility and confidence, he passed his 10th and 12th standard exam through open schooling.

Now Govind wants to pursue his education and find the right career. But the challenge was when he approached Eyeway he had already made up his mind. He wanted to study Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA), which he believed as the only way to gain a techie’s job in a corporation. While BCA was one way to do it, there were challenges to it too. BCA has a curriculum based on mathematics largely and some institutions keep mathematics as a criterion for allowing admission. Govind had never learned mathematics in school. This was one challenge Eyeway had to resolve.

Also, in this new innings of his life, his parents were unsure of sending him alone anywhere away from home. Thus, they decided to put him with his relative’s family in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh to pursue his education. In this context, Govind wanted Eyeway to help him find out a private mathematics tutor in Gwalior city who can teach him the subject in Braille. He thought this will help him learn basic school mathematics before the BCA entrance exam which was just a few months away. And this was the second challenge.

Eyeway felt this issue of Govind unviable at many levels. Firstly, BCA is not the only course to achieve his dream career path. Secondly, to train someone in a subject for the first time in his life and to make him ready for a competitive exam few months prior to it is unfeasible. Mindful of these realistic challenges, Eyeway connected Govind to a disability-rights activist in Madhya Pradesh who could explain to him the challenges and opportunities in achieving his dream job. This conversation he had with the activist revealed to him the diverse possibilities for having the same career, but not the only one way he had envisioned.

On follow-up, Govind was found more relaxed, open-minded and pragmatic. He was curious about different academic disciplines in line with what he had studied. Eyeway counselor was able to convince Govind, now welcoming towards diverse options, to continue education in one of the Arts subjects which he learned in school while simultaneously gaining advanced levels of training in Computer. Govind has wholeheartedly agreed to this suggestion and will be soon joining the Delhi University to continue his education.

Hope is the best panacea

Illiteracy and poverty are reasons enough to miss out on the opportunities for social and economic progress in India. When it is coupled with a physical impairment, one can only imagine how life turns from bad to worse. Rahul Raj, an 18-year-old boy from Nevada, Uttar Pradesh illustrates the plight of an individual stuck in many levels of discriminations.

Born into a poor family to illiterate parents among four other siblings, as the eldest and the only visually impaired, Rahul battled with a grim future every day before he connected to Eyeway. His father’s income from the inconsistent manual labor is significantly meager to feed a family of seven. There is nothing much his mother can do with the ceaseless domestic work. Cooking, cleaning and caring for four small children and the blind child have left her haggard. Thus, the persecutions of poverty appear to have snuffed the hope out of this family, at least for now.

Rahul stayed behind when his younger siblings went to the nearby village school, studying and playing together. He did nothing, except rue his misfortune and hear the murmurs of displeasure every single day. His parents not knowing what to do with the child, decided to send Rahul with their other children to school when he turned 10. He went to a mainstream village school in Nevada for the next three years with his four siblings. He was allowed to sit in the 4th standard classroom with the other students but was denied any participation in school exams or any other activities. The school wasn’t particularly keen on enrolling Rahul as he was visually impaired.

After three years of futile schooling, on the suggestion from one of his teachers, he decided to quit and join a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) camp in Nevada, away from his house. Since daily commuting was a challenge for Rahul, he moved closer to attend the camp for the next year and a half. In the camp, he managed to learn Braille and get some basic education, though he didn’t get any career guidance which he was looking for.
It was in 2016, after completion of the SSA camp and not knowing what to do ahead, that he happened to hear about Eyeway’s toll-free helpline on the radio. Brimming with curiosity on how Eyeway could possibly help him move forward in life, he contacted our helpline counselor. His sole interest in the conversation was fixed on the available educational opportunities. He also shared his concerns and aspirations. He wanted to gain education and employment in order to attain independence. He also said that being the eldest in the family he wished to financially support his parents and the younger siblings. Our counselor suggested National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) wherefrom he can give his 10th exams to be on the right track to pursue education.

Taking Eyeway counselor’s advice he enrolled with NIOS and completed his 10th exam by 2017. During this period he also remained in constant contact with Eyeway clarifying multiple doubts on education, employment, essential technology etc. Rahul’s latest call to the Eyeway Helpdesk surprised everyone. It was not the subdued and dispirited person the counselor was used to but a voice filled with confidence. He not only cleared his 10th exams successfully but wanted to study ahead in a mainstream school. Acknowledging his aspirations, Eyeway suggested Jayati Bharatam in Lucknow where he could enroll for his senior secondary education.

On follow-up, the counselor learned that Rahul had not only enrolled himself but also inspired nine other visually impaired friends of his to pursue an education at Jayati Bharatam. Eyeway hopes Rahul can make his dreams come true and redeem his family from their problems soon.

Will truth prevail?

Pramod Dev (name changed) a visually impaired (VI) 45-year-old man from Pune is fighting an almost forgotten legal tussle. The battle he did not have the confidence to take up before, the battle he thought he would give up. Now with the assistance of Eyeway, Pramod has started a fresh case against the BSNL telephone operators for the fraudulence he was victimized to, more than 15 years ago.

In 1983, when he started a PCO (Public Call Office) in Pune at a time when technology was not as available and abundant like it is now, it was his only livelihood. It was a way to survive in a society that highly marginalized the disabled. PCOs were a market in itself where many people relied on a living and also the government provided it as a welfare measure to the poor. Pramod took two BSNL numbers/connections for his PCO. It was a time when making a telephone call was rare and cumbersome, thus this business had significant demand. But Pramod never anticipated that in a few years he would be tricked by some corrupt officials of BSNL to pay unwarranted telephone bills.

Assuming his disability as an opportunity to cheat, the corrupt officials withheld the bill of payments for one of his numbers/connections over many months and gradually manipulated it. When he enquired at the time on this situation of issuing no ‘bill of costs’, he was made to believe that everything was normal. He waited and tried to clarify from the BSNL office but to no avail.  Finally, when the bill was issued it turned up an exorbitant amount of Rs. 50,000 which he knew was the result of some malpractice. Hardly could he challenge this situation at that time, except to entreat the officers to show some sympathy. His attempts to convey his side of the story fell on deaf ears. Managers and officials forced him to pay the costs soon to avoid any legal consequences. On deeper inquiry, he understood that he was cheated by incorporating the costs incurred to another BSNL client who was issued the same connection as his. But he was incapacitated economically and socially to bring the culprits to light and get justice.

On the advice of a senior manager in BSNL, Pramod agreed to bear the costs and pay the amount in installments of Rs. 850 per month. And by 2004 he settled the entire amount with a lot of struggle. The thought of his honesty being tainted and denied any opportunity to fight for justice weakened him morally. Pramod knocked on many doors for support but many of the responses didn’t convince him. Neither police nor lawyers helped, not taking him seriously because he was blind and poor. But he maintained his communication with the Pune Blind Men Association (PBMA), Lion’s Club, Pune, Bank of Maharashtra, Pune and Pune Municipal Corporation, who supported him financially and morally at different stages. Though these institutions encouraged him to challenge BSNL legally, he lacked the confidence and the financial means. At the same time, he was also pressured not to take up any legal routes against BSNL from different corners. He was scared of fighting a government authority, unsure of the security for his wife and three children.

But surprisingly, in 2018 on hearing the Eyeway radio promos and the list of services Eyeway provides, Pramod contacted our helpline. He shared his ordeal and the Eyeway counselor encouraged him to take up the case against BSNL. Eyeway counselor instilled in Pramod the confidence to fight the legal battle. He was also informed of the possibilities of fighting the case and his case becoming a precedent for averting similar exploitations in the future for other visually impaired people. Pramod was connected to Eyeway partner Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), wherefrom he was provided more legal inputs. But engaging a lawyer meant shelling money from his pocket at a time where his household is entirely dependent on his wife’s income from the tea stall she runs.

But now being emotionally empowered and legally informed after the intervention by Eyeway, he has forwarded his case to the Human Rights department of Pune with the backing of Pune Blind Men’s Association (PBMA). This is one among the many cases where the vulnerability of a visually impaired individual is exploited by different authorities. With Eyeway handling a large number of similar cases of exploitation of visually impaired people, this is an issue of import.  Visually impaired people are still treated as ‘outsiders’ at workplaces, in education, for accessibility etc. which all culminate in cases of unjustifiable discrimination. Pramod’s case is worse than that.

Eyeway will lend all available assistance to Pramod Dev so that his case will obtain the deserving attention and justice is served.

Paving the road to a secure destination

Ravi from Harugeri village, Karnataka is now 25 years old, a decade and a half since he last went to school. He was born visually impaired (VI), like his elder sister, the eldest brother being the only sighted among the siblings. Born into a financially weak family, to illiterate parents dependent on manual labor for a living, life was full of struggles for the siblings.

He and his sister who are visually impaired suffered the most. For the parents having no knowledge about living life with blindness, the two blind children were a liability. The sighted brother and the VI sister were not given any education. His sister helped the mother in domestic work and the sighted brother spent his days aimlessly. On the advice of a family relative, young Ravi was put in a nearby village school. By the time Ravi was in 5th standard, both father and mother died from health-related ailments. With that, his education also stopped.
His elder brother took responsibility, though not whole-heartedly to look after the siblings and provide for them. He started a small shop, which became the only source of income for the family. While the elder brother ran the shop, his sister took care of the household chores like cooking, cleaning etc. and Ravi sat at home helpless. His brother was harsh towards the blind siblings due to his own lack of awareness. Ravi regretted not going to school, he wanted to cut his dependency on his siblings, he wanted to be employed, and he wanted his sister to be empowered. He always felt there is a dignified way to live his life but never knew how to achieve it.
After few years at home, he joined a local NGO and learned some basic skills like reading, Braille etc. though he didn’t get any proper guidance for the future. After those few months, he again became idle and lonely. He always thought about going back to school but didn’t know how. One of his friends in the village told him about ‘Namma Vaani’ a social media platform for persons with disabilities. From ‘Namma Vaani’ platform, he got to know to about Eyeway Helpdesk and immediately connected with our helpline counselor in April 2018. He was curious and nervous. He precisely wanted to know about opportunities to restart his education. He also shared his concerns and regrets with the counselor.

Eyeway counselor conveyed to him that education is possible, and with hard work and a strong will he could put all his struggles to rest. As a first step, the counselor asked him to finish his class 10th exams through open schooling. For that, he was put in touch with a local NGO called Jagruti Trust which could help him to enroll in open school. He was also informed about the rehabilitation programs and computer training available at Enable India, Bangalore. He was informed about the dignified life possible for visually impaired individuals through education, employment, training and rehabilitation which could all be acquired gradually. Eyeway counselor also asked Ravi to inspire his sister who is now 30 years old and has never been to school, to make use of the opportunities available for visually impaired in India.

Ravi is now happy and confident, he is preparing to restart his education and the thought itself fills him with hope.