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.

On the path to independence

23 year old Anshula Mishra is a resident of Vaishali, Ghaziabad. She was born with physical deformities and visual impairment. Her father is a photographer and mother is a homemaker. Anshula also has an elder sister who is married. When she was 3 years old, Anshula’s parents took her to AIIMS, Delhi where the doctors diagnosed her of Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition that results in gradual vision loss. Unfortunately the doctors didn’t guide the parents towards any rehabilitative course of action. As a result, they remained absolutely ignorant and worried about the future of a disabled girl child. Anshula was never sent out of the house for any formal education because her parents became over-protective given her gender coupled with disability.

Seeing her completely dependent on the family for basic needs even at the age of 10, Anshula’s sister convinced the parents to send her for rehabilitation. They admitted her in Interact Society in Noida where Anshula underwent two years of rehabilitation training but when the conveyance facility offered by the institute was withdrawn, the parents decided to keep Anshula at home once again. They felt that Anshula didn’t show any visible signs of improvement in the two years. Her parents were not prepared to send their visually impaired girls alone anywhere, so they decided to teach her some basic alphabets and numbers at home.

Things turned worse from hereon. Anshula was confined at home for the next ten years, totally dependent on her parents for daily living. She required help for eating, bathing, dressing up and so on. No exposure to the outside world or any formal education left her addicted to Television.

In 2018, Anshula’s sister found out about Eyeway on the internet. She called up the helpline and narrated her younger sister’s story to our counselor. After comprehending the entire issue, Eyeway counselor suggested the need for immediate rehabilitation so that Anshula could become capable of doing her personal work. This would help her regain the self-confidence that she’d lost over the years. The counselor recommended rehabilitation training at Silver Linings in Delhi, which works on empowering visually impaired girls, promoting inclusive education for blind children and overall inclusion of persons with disabilities into the mainstream.

A few months later, Anshula’s family was happy to report the progress in their daughter to the Eyeway counselor. As a result of the training at Silver Linings, Anshula can now independently take a bath, eat her meals, clean her dishes, and perform other such daily activities. As part of her mobility training she has learnt to move around with a white cane. Eyeway also followed up the case with Silver Linings and learnt that in the next stage of training, Anshula will be taught basic computer skills, Braille and also how to cook.

In addition, the counselor also advised Anshula’s family to support her closely through this transition and engage her in active discussions on topics of her interest. This would help her learn about new things and improve her communication skills.

Beat the odds & chase your dreams

21-year old Anjali Sharma is a resident of East Sikkim.  During her 10th standard CBSE Board exams, she came down with high fever and was treated for common cold, not knowing the magnitude of its impact. Persistent fever and deteriorating eyesight led her parents to consult various doctors and she was diagnosed with brain tumour.

Her parents referred to AIIMS in Delhi, where she was successfully treated for brain tumour but her vision couldn’t be restored. The doctor tried to instil confidence in young Anjali by suggesting ways for her empowerment. This played an integral role in her going back to school and pursuing her education. Unlike majority of blind children, Anjali was fortunate to get help from her parents, teachers and friends to continue her studies.  She completed her 10th and 12thclasses from Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) with the help of her parents, who read out and recorded the academic content for her whenever required. Teachers knew of her disability and gave her appropriate guidance to study which helped her in scoring 95% in her 12th. She was lauded by the then Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) Minister, Smriti Irani, for her achievement. She graduated in 2018 by scoring 75% in English Honours adding another laurel to her academic achievements.

Knowing her keen interest in studies, one of her friends suggested her to use screen reader enabled laptop, which led her to seek help from Eyeway. The counselor at Eyeway guided her to download and install NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access), a screen reading software for easily accessing computer. However the counsellor realised that Anjali was not able to use NVDA and further suggested her to get enrolled in a 4-month Basic Computer Training course at the National Association for the Blind (NAB), Delhi.

Since Anjali was interested to work in the Government sector, Eyeway further suggested her to join Advance Computer Training from All India Confederation for the Blind (AICB), where apart from the computer training, she could also get coaching and prepare for the competitive exams for government sector jobs. Her father wanted Anjali to pursue Quality Training in Delhi, so Eyeway suggested Delhi some based organizations which could prove helpful. Anjali is an awe-inspiring example for many blind people, who sincerely used all the help and guidance to carve out a bright future.

Information is critical for progress

A resident of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, 25 year old Jitendra Singh is blind by birth in one eye. He went to a mainstream school and led a normal life, socialising with friends and engaging in outdoor activities. But in 2008 he met with an accident which injured his other eye as well. He underwent an operation immediately and eyesight in the left eye was restored. However a year later, receiving treatment for Malaria, the doctor prescribed Jitendra with an unusually high dosage of medicine which resulted in degenerating vision. This time he was taken to Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai where his left eye was operated again. But unfortunately Jitendra was left with minimal vision.

Without knowing anything about life with blindness, he continued his schooling merely on his will. With his deteriorating vision, he gave his 10th board exam, continued to his higher secondary but by then it became too strenuous given his limited vision.  He couldn’t clear the 12th exam at the first attempt. Having no knowledge about scribe and accessible study material also added to his challenges. This left him grief-stricken and searching for support. The relentless search helped him find out about Eyeway from our radio programme ‘Eyeway yeh hai roshni ka karwan’. Through the radio programme, Jitendra learnt of scribe facility for visually impaired people to help them write exams. In 2013, he enrolled again into 12th standard and cleared the exam with the help of a scribe. After that he went on to successfully complete his graduation and all this while he kept close contact with Eyeway.

Since then and more recently Jitendra has called the Eyeway Helpdesk to find out about various schemes and opportunities for persons with visual impairment. He has sought guidelines for banking, issuance of Disability Certificate and UDID card, eligibility for different jobs, computer training courses and so on.

Better late than never

A resident of Udvada town in Gujarat, 24 year old Sachin was diagnosed with glaucoma, a disorder that damages the optic nerve. Both Sachin and his sister are visually impaired, belonging to a lower middle class family. Their father allowed them to study in a special school in Mumbai until Class X. After that he insisted that both his children return home to Gujarat where he would provide for them.

His studies discontinued, Sachin led a dependent life for the next seven years. But when a cousin insisted him to complete his education, Sachin contacted the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Mumbai. He was redirected to the Eyeway Helpdesk. On speaking with Sachin, the counselor realized that he wanted to complete his studies but he also sought extensive support from the school vis-à-vis accessing study material, mobility etc.  Thus our counselor guided Sachin to finish his schooling from NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) and seek help from National Association for Blind, Mumbai for accessible study material. He was also advised to use a white cane and a talkback enabled android phone to function independently. In addition, Sachin was recommended to join a vocational course at NAB so he could get free accommodation in Mumbai.

Following Eyeway’s suggestions, Sachin has now enrolled in Class XII through private Maharashtra board as well as in an English Stenography course at NAB. It was heartening to see Sachin use a white cane and a smartphone on his recent visit to the Mumbai Helpdesk. Eyeway counselor has further suggested him to consider employability training at EnAble India in Bangalore.

Guiding back to a hopeful future

24 year old Pawan Sharma struggled growing up in a poor family as a visually impaired child. He was put in a mainstream school but given his degenerative eye condition, he had to grapple with challenges in a classroom full of sighted students as well as visual teaching methods. His education, mobility, accessibility, etc. were all reliant on his spared vision at the end of each year. Ultimately, while pursuing his higher secondary education he lost his complete vision and having no awareness about life with disability, he had to drop out of school.

Since then he had been sitting idle at home, ignorant of any possibilities of living life with blindness. His family was also of no help as they were equally unaware. Lack of education confined Pawan to the four walls of his house.

It was a casual internet browsing that led him to find Eyeway. He wasted no time in contacting the Helpdesk where he shared his problems. On comprehending his issue and his absolute ignorance on living life with disability, the counselor suggested a rehabilitation program for him to start with. Pawan was only keen to know about employment opportunities available to him. However, the counselor informed him that employment options in his case were limited given his existing educational qualifications. To gain proper employment, he not only needed educational qualification but also required to undergo appropriate training for rehabilitation. For this purpose, he was asked to join Arushi India in Madhya Pradesh, an NGO that provides education, rehabilitation, awareness, skills training etc. to persons with disabilities.

Pawan expressed his desire to pursue his education in a mainstream institution but the counselor told him that his age was a barrier to enrol in a regular school. He was suggested to choose between a special school, private school or open schooling. Heeding the counselor’s suggestion, Pawan decided to pursue to enrol in Madhya Pradesh private board to complete his Class XII.  He was also informed about government schemes he could avail to purchase assistive devices for his education. The counselor also suggested resources like Cheema Trust Foundation, Chandigarh and NAB Delhi to get accessible study material.

Adjusting to new ways of learning

Ashutosh Singhal, a 16-year-old teenager from a middle-class family in East Delhi had a normal childhood till he was hit by a sudden loss of vision while pursuing his 10th standard. Ashutosh and his five-member family were taken by surprise at this abrupt turn of events. It was a crucial time in his life because in Class 10 a student’s plate is full with several tests and projects to be submitted.. His parents took him to Shroff Eye Hospital, Delhi where he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and forewarned of a gradual loss of vision.

The doctor also rightly guided Ashutosh and his family about the various challenges of a life with blindness. Some basic information including available assistive devices was shared with them. This helped in relieving the family of a huge amount of pressure. They were informed of Saksham Trust, Delhi, which happens to be an Eyeway partner. At this point, pursuing education in a mainstream school with deteriorating vision was the main challenge for Ashutosh. He was directed to National Association for Blind (NAB), another Eyeway partner, where he underwent one month computer training. His trainer at NAB asked Ashutosh to contact the Eyeway Helpdesk for any issues related to visual impairment.

When Ashutosh spoke to our counselor in August 2018, he explained the difficulty he faced in studying. The counselor realized that Ashutosh needed proper guidance in accessing accessible resources and devices. He was apprised of available study material on online libraries like Sugamya Pustakalaya and Bookshare. The counselor also suggested Ashutosh to contact Blind Relief Association, NAB and All India Confederation for the Blind in case he needed up to date NCERT study material. In addition, Eyeway counselor also guided Ashutosh to make use of Android applications like Envision AI, Smart Lens, Hindi OCR and so on.

On follow up, a confident Ashutosh informed our counselor that he was making good use of the various suggestions on technology for his reading, writing and learning.

Resolute in the face of challenges

21-year-old Anil from Belgavi district, Karnataka contacted Eyeway after hearing about the service on the radio. He is visually impaired by birth and so are his father and brother. Anil’s mother, the only sighted member in the family manages the daily affairs in the household with a small income.

But despite all challenges, both the children were sent to school. Anil studied in a nearby village mainstream school. With the help of friends, teachers and his family, he completed schooling successfully securing the first rank. Though his low vision was a hindrance, he was ambitious enough to not let it hamper his progress. He held books close to his eyes and sat close to the blackboard in the classroom so that he could read and take notes respectively.  At the same time his brother successfully completed his post-graduation, inspiring Anil to also pursue his further education. But the lack of finances came in the way of ambition. Anil’s brother was unable to find employment and the income from agricultural work was also inconsistent. This left the family miserable.

But still Anil was not ready to give up. He kept his faith and went on to pursue his graduation. Being a radio enthusiast, he heard about Eyeway and its services for the blind over a radio programme. This aroused his curiosity and led him to contact the Eyeway Helpdesk. He contacted chiefly to know about available income sources or schemes from the government under which he could get a scholarship. Comprehending his query, the Eyeway counselor suggested State scholarship schemes like Vidya Sri Scholarship for undergraduate students where the student is entitled to Rs. 7,000 annually on scoring 80% and above. A second solution on scholarship specifically for persons with disabilities was also suggested to him under which he could avail Rs. 3,000 annually. He availed the scholarship support as per the information shared and completed his degree, once again securing 1st rank.

Though he had plans to pursue his post-graduation, the untimely death of his father slowed his pursuits. He contacted Eyeway again seeking some short term support. The counselor suggested him to pursue vocational courses like computer training or spoken English till he could get back into mainstream education. Indeed it is a difficult time for Anil with respect to his father’s demise and worsening finances in the family. Eyeway hopes Anil will be able to overcome these challenges and set things right.

Discriminated but not defeated

Abin from Kerala is bogged down by the multiple challenges he is facing to be independent. He needs strong counsel and support to continue from where he is now. He was born blind to a lower middle-class family in Kozhikode, Kerala. Abin’s father and brother both work as pipeline workers in the municipality. With the support of his family and friends, he has surmounted majority of the challenges of visual impairment. Abin’s self-confidence helped him complete his schooling and college. He is a post graduate in Sociology and also holds a B.Ed degree.

Having completed his education in 2016, Abin realised the need for financial independence at this point in his life. He no longer wanted to be dependent on his family and felt that his education would help him with employment.  He enrolled himself to train for government exams in 2017. He worked hard towards his goal during that year, training and preparing for various exams. He appeared for Lower Division Clerk (LDC) exam in the same year and successfully cleared it but with this his challenges also started to unravel. After being listed for recruitment he was disqualified citing his blindness as a drawback for the position. This upset his plans of getting a job on one hand and on the other, he felt discriminated. This left him depressed and desperate for a reversal of fortunes. But without losing heart, he kept on with his preparations. He completed his coaching during this time and joined a computer course to upgrade his skills. It was from his computer trainer that he came to know about Eyeway for the first time and he decided to immediately contact the Helpdesk for assistance.

He shared his innermost concerns on employment, finances, exams and his lost opportunities. The counselor gave a patient hearing to Abin, understanding the discrimination he had faced at the hands of Public Service Commission authorities by disqualifying him. Taking Eyeway’s counselor’s advice, Abin filed an official complaint with the PSC office in Kozhikode but the authorities denied all allegations. He was then suggested to follow a legal recourse but Abin desisted.

So the counselor thought it apt to direct him more towards looking ahead and seeking newer opportunities. Abin was asked to continue his preparations for government exams since he has age on his side. As another immediate solution, he was informed about self-employment options under the Mudra scheme. The counselor told Abin that he could apply for a loan to start a business of his own. The counselor further guided him with creating a proper business plan mentioning the required infrastructure, equipment, budget etc. Eyeway Counselor also suggested Abin to start Akshaya Centre (a public service office) or a DTP (Desktop Publishing) centre. Abin has wholeheartedly taken the advice already applied for the loan. He has completed the initial procedures and is waiting to get his loan finalised. He is grateful for the counselor’s timely advice and looks forward to making it count.