Slowed down by denial and stigma

Ajit Sharma (name changed)  a 31-year-old resident of Delhi who went blind after he met with an accident in 2007 walked into Score Foundation with his parents. They are a well-to-do family, with Ajit’s father a businessman and mother a house-wife. Ajit has gone through the ordeal of being in a coma six months after he met with the accident. They got to know about Eyeway when one day they accidentally bumped into our Helpdesk Operations Manager. But it took them a whole year before they made up their mind to contact Eyeway Helpdesk. During the length of ten years between his accident and meeting with Eyeway, all Ajit could do was gain four-month computer training from NAB, R.K Puram. Though the number of years gone behind was less important in the face of the new found determination of Ajit to make use of his life with education and a job, there was an evident denial and stigma holding back his parents from accepting their son’s current needs in life. Some of the suggestions to provide speech therapy or psychiatric counseling were brushed under the carpet which was observed by the counselors as needful to Ajit’s physical and mental conditions.

But the counselors were successful in convincing Ajit and his parents of the need for education. The counselors suggested enrolling Ajit for a correspondence course with IGNOU. They were made to understand the availability of E-books through Gyan Kosh online resource library of IGNOU and audiobook libraries in NAB and Saksham. Also, demonstration of the Android phone and screening of Nazar Ya Nazariya was held by the counselors to make Ajit and his parents more aware of the possibilities of a life after blindness. We also put Ajit in contact with NGO Samarthanam in Delhi for a rehabilitative training.

On a follow-up call, it was understood that Ajit Sharma was admitted into Samarthanam where he will undergo training for life and mobility skills like computer, socialization, etc.

Rejuvenated by ambition

Kanika Gupta (name changed), a resident of Ghaziabad is 23 years old. She lost her vision due to Brain Tuberculosis in 2012. The subsequent medication also resulted in her developing locomotor disabilities, leaving her both visually and physically challenged. Thus, she couldn’t leave her house for a prolonged period of five years. But brave Kanika still had her ambitions entrenched, hardly affected by anything that was disabling her body. She kept dreaming about gaining higher education and securing a job. On one of her casual visits to Saksham Trust, Delhi about which she got to know from her sister in Mumbai she met with an Eyeway counselor who directed her to the Eyeway center at Score Foundation. She then visited Score Foundation with her parents who are lecturers by qualification but have changed their profession to take care of their daughter. Her father now has a sales job and her mother has turned housewife to be at an arm’s reach to their dear daughter. Kanika had finished her schooling five years back and now with immense support from her parents, she was thinking a “new beginning” in her life.

Understanding her enthusiasm and her parents’ faith in her potential Eyeway counselors took the best steps forward to encourage and inspire her. Eyeway placed hope and confidence in her mind and encouraged her to pursue graduation through correspondence from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in a subject of her liking. Counselors suggested to her career options like lectureship, starting a coaching center after any English courses from British Council, or start soft skill training as her communication skills were impressive.
Two of the counselors shared their own life experiences of having surmounted their disabilities with courage. This made a profound difference in her interaction for the remaining part of the meeting.

To learn and understand many similar lives of those who defeated any type of disability imposed by the world the counselors suggested watching Eyeway’s TV series ‘Nazar Ya Nazariya’. Also, the counselors made them aware of NVDA and JAWS software and talk back technology for Android phones that would help her normalize her life. The eyeway team emphasized on the need for Kanika to exert herself in physical exercises so she could gain back her locomotor abilities. Eyeway managed to send Kanika and her family back with great joy, optimism, and aspirations.

On a follow-up call, Eyeway learned that Kanika had enrolled for B.A Honors in English from IGNOU. She had also joined a computer training program in National Association for the Blind (NAB), Delhi but discontinued due to her locomotor problems. Our counselors then connected her with Ravinder Gupta, a home-based computer trainer so Kanika could easily pursue her training at home.

Need to sustain livelihood

Rajnath Kumar (name changed), a resident of Uttar Pradesh is 100% blind. He is married and a father of two girls. He grew up in the midst of financial troubles. Hailing from a farmer’s family, his education stopped when he passed from 8th standard in school. That was the best his father could afford for him. There was a long period of him remaining as a liability to his family and in despair. But marriage brought a new perspective to his life and economic self-sustenance was inevitable to that. This is when he started ruing about starting a business of his own. He searched for jobs and also sought to add skills that would help him gain employment. He underwent training at Blind Relief Association (BRA), Delhi in candle making. He wished to start his own business and was curious about where he could apply for a loan at affordable interest rates.

He learned about Eyeway from a friend and decided to call for help. Eyeway counselor helped him with information on the National Handicapped Finance Development Corporation (NHFDC) and various self-employment finance schemes available. Precise contact that would help Rajnath get acquainted with the respective State Channelizing Agency (SCA) of NHFDC in Uttar Pradesh was conveyed.

In a follow-up call to Rajnath, we learned that he had contacted NHFDC which offered him a solution for his self-employment venture. In fact, NHFDC inclined to give him training on setting up the grocery shop on which he had doubts. But the Eyeway counselor could instill confidence in him and convince him to take up the training.

Banking woes

19 year old Tanishk (name changed) lives in Panipat, Haryana with his mother and sister. Both Tanishk and his sister have low vision. While Tanishk is 80% blind, his sister has 30% vision. Their mother works in an Anganwadi to support the family and ensure that her children get a good education.

Tanishk managed to study up till Class 7 in a regular school but due to deteriorating vision he had to drop out and join a special school after that. He has now completed matriculation from CBSE Open Board and is studying in Class XI. Tanishk has undergone computer training and is well verse with assistive technology. He wishes to study further and pursue a career in banking. His sister is pursuing her BA (Correspondence) from Delhi University and is in her first year. Initially, Tanishk called the Eyeway Helpdesk to inquire for jobs his sister could take up alongside her BA. Our counselor had shared some openings at the time.

But more recently, Tanishk called with two banking complaints, respectively faced by him and his sisters in different banks. Tanishk was being denied an ATM card by SBI Bank on the grounds of his blindness. We shared the RBI and IBA circular with Tanishk which state that visually impaired people cannot be denied any banking facilities due to their disability. Even after Tanishk shared the documents with the Bank manager and officials, they refused to issue him an ATM card. Eyeway counselor then spoke to the bank manager to help resolve the issue. As a result, Tanishk was duly issued an ATM card.

Their woes didn’t end at that. His sister was denied an ATM card too, by Punjab National Bank. And this time too the bank officials refused to take into consideration the existing guidelines by RBI and IBA. We are in the process of following up with the bank. We will continue to chase the matter until Tanishk’s sister gets her ATM card and access to any other banking facility she requires.

It’s ironical that Tanishk and his sister are facing discrimination by the same sector he wishes to join one day. Who knows he might be brushing shoulders with these very people in the days to come!

Seeking help for basic financial rights

An old Eyeway client, Birju (name changed) visited the Eyeway Helpdesk office in New Delhi on September 7, 2017. He is a resident of Kaushambi, UP and is 100% blind. Birju has three daughters and a son, and his wife is mentally retarded. He is the sole breadwinner in the family. Birju came to Eyeway seeking help in opening a Kisan Credit Card account with his local bank. The Branch Manager at Bank of Baroda in Nara, Kaushambi refused to open an account for Birju unless it was a joint account. The manager believed that visually impaired Birju was incapable of operating a bank account on his own. Our counselor spoke to the Bank Manager informing him of the provisions in place for blind people and the fact that they are perfectly capable of accessing financial facilities independently. We also shared the relevant guidelines issued by RBI and IBA, following which Birju’s issue was resolved.

Desperate for training and employment

70 year old Satish (name changed) lives in Delhi. He lost his eye sight because of an accident in the chemical laboratory while performing his BSc practicals. Nitrogen gas boiled and gushed on to his face, leaving him almost fully blind. Somehow he managed to complete his Bachelors but could not pursue his Masters in Science. Luckily his good communication skills helped him secure the job of a receptionist in Overseas Bank. After working for 28 years in the bank, Satish retired and opened a canteen in National Association for Blind (NAB) Delhi in 2006. But due to lack of funds, he could not sustain the business for more than a year. In the following years, Satish took up a receptionist’s job with two NGOs based in Delhi. But since 2015 he has been unemployed. The main obstacle he faces on the job is his inability to work with computers. All the jobs he has applied for require a basic working knowledge of computers.

In his younger years, Satish did not realize the need to acquire computer skills and he wasn’t even aware of how technology can assist a blind person in his daily life. But now that Satish is unemployed, disabled and living alone, he is desperate for a solution. Satish’s nephew who is also blind underwent training at NAB. He suggested that Satish get in touch with Eyeway for help.

On calling Eyeway, Satish learnt about screen readers and talk backs. Our counselor guided him on how a blind person can access computers using screen reading software like JAWS and NVDA. The counselor shared a copy of NVDA software with Satish and also took him through the steps of installing it on his computer. But to be able to operate computers using screen reading software effectively, Satish needs proper training. He wanted to enroll for the training offered at NAB but his present financial condition does not permit him to commute daily from his home in Sagarpur to the center in RK Puram. At this point, Satish hopes he can find resources to complete his training so he can regain employment and provide for himself. Eyeway will continue to offer support in whichever way possible.

A visually impaired father seeks out help for his children

A resident of Meerut, 37 year old Mohd Sheikh (name changed) is 60% blind. He suffers from a genetic disorder which has led to his gradual loss of vision right from birth. He dropped out of school after completing Class VIII as it increasingly became difficult for him to cope with his studies given his vision impairment. He was unaware of the aids and resources that could have helped him finish his studies. He now has a job where he works as a bookbinder, earning barely enough to support his wife and three children. Sheikh heard about Eyeway helpline on the radio and decided to call for help.  He shared two major concerns with our counselor. First, he wanted to learn about job options which may enable him to provide for his family better. Second, all his three children suffered from the same genetic disorder, causing similar eye problems. His eldest daughter is 10, second one is 7 and the son who is the youngest is 3. When he spoke to our counselor, Sheikh was extremely worried and concerned about their education.  He didn’t want them to lose out on studies because of blindness as he did.

After giving him a patient hearing, our counselor guided Sheikh with the next steps. We suggested him to consider starting his own bookbinding business. For financial assistance, we advised him to apply for a loan under the National Handicap Finance Development Corporation (NHFDC) scheme. As for his children, we asked him to foremost get proper medical consultation on each of their cases and stay in regular touch with the doctors. We also advised him to get their Disability Certificates made so they could avail appropriate schemes and provisions. We also put him in touch with National Association for the Blind (NAB) in Meerut where all four of them could undergo rehabilitative training which would prepare them to cope with sight loss. In addition, our counselor also shared the links of our TV series, Nazar Ya Nazariya with Sheikh, so they could all watch stories of successful blind people and get inspired and also become aware of the myriad possibilities of living life with blindness.

Following our advice, Sheikh took medical consultation for all three children in a local government hospital. He plans to enroll in the training at NAB soon. He also intends to visit Delhi to meet our Helpdesk team in person and visit AIIMS to get Disability Certificates for his daughters and son.

Coping with late blindness and learning about provisions for disabled

45 year old Dhiraj Tendulkar (name changed) was born in Nagpur. He has a big family including his parents, four sisters and a brother. Dhiraj earned his MSc Math degree after completing his education in regular school and college in Nagpur. In 1996 he secured a job under the ST quota in the Defence Standardization Cell in Pune. He was appointed as a Junior Technical Officer. Dhiraj’s parents didn’t want to leave Nagpur and relocate to Pune so they stayed behind with his brother. But since the income from his brother’s job as a post office agent was not enough to support the family, Dhiraj took the onus of financially looking after his parents. In 2001, he was transferred to Ahmednagar as part of a routine exercise. Except for the few challenges of moving from one city to the other, Dhiraj adjusted well into his job.

It was in 2005 that he faced a major challenge in life. His eye sight began to deteriorate, affecting his ability to perform his job. On consulting with doctors, Dhiraj was diagnosed with Retina Pigmentosa, where gradual reduction of vision leads to complete blindness. Grappling with sudden blindness and inability to perform well, one day Dhiraj came across a news item in Maharashtra daily, Sakal, which talked about blind people operating computers. On contacting the news reporter of the particular story, Dhiraj learned about Eyeway. Seeing this as a ray of hope, he instantly called the Eyeway Helpdesk. He shared his challenges and sought help in coping with work as a blind person. Eyeway counselor informed him about how he could learn computers to help him become independent and efficient at work. Dhiraj underwent the computer training using screen reading software. We also advised him to get a Disability Certificate and submit it to his employer so he could avail benefits for person with disability. As a result, Dhiraj’s employer not only changed his profile to a computer based job but also provided him with the required assistive devices to perform his job well. Dhiraj regained his confidence with a consistent annual performance rating 9 out of 10.

But recently, he was faced with a new difficulty with an order of routine transfer from Ahmednagar to Pune. After having settled well into Ahmednagar for all these years and given his disability, Dhiraj didn’t want to relocate to Pune. He contacted Eyeway yet again seeking advice and help on how to stop his transfer. Our counselor shared with him the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) guidelines which clearly state that persons with disabilities may be exempted from rotational transfer. Dhiraj submitted the copy of the specific order to his employer, following which his transfer was stopped.

Considering that Dhiraj not only provides for his own family but also his parents, it was critical that he retain his job. With Eyeway’s advice for training he learnt to cope with his disability without affecting his ability to perform at work. Also the information on provisions for the disabled helped him claim his legal rights as a blind employee.

Accepting disability and moving on

27 year old Arjun (name changed) hails from Jaipur, Rajasthan. Arjun had low vision in one eye since birth but he wasn’t really aware of it until a few years ago when he lost vision in his other eye.  Arjun met with a failure early in life when he was 15. He could not clear all his Class X exams. He was disappointed and lost his enthusiasm to study further. He decided to move out of Jaipur and explore options in the dream city of Mumbai. Arjun joined his cousin’s business. He worked with great zeal in the family business until one day when a ball hit his eye while playing ‘gali cricket’. Things took an adverse turn following the accident. Arjun lost his vision in one eye and during the course of medical consultancy, realized that he had low vision in the second eye as well. Loss of vision made him inefficient at work.  Arjun didn’t know what to do and who to seek out for help. Then he overheard about Eyeway on the radio. He called the helpline and shared his issues. Our counselor helped him understand how he could continue to live a happy and independent life despite blindness. But somehow Arjun never fully heeded to our advice. He struggled at work, trying to deliver but kept failing.

It was only after his cousin asked him to leave that Arjun felt he was a liability on people. He called Eyeway again, this time more determined to change his situation. He expressed a desire to start his own business. Our counselor assured him that it was possible to successfully set up his own business if he followed the right steps of rehabilitation. Eyeway guided him about the various rehabilitative and mobility training courses available at National Association for Blind (NAB) in Mumbai. Our counselor also motivated him to complete his studies in order to improve his future prospects. Arjun agreed to pursue both his studies and the vocational training at NAB. Our counselor also informed Arjun that he would need to complete his Class X from Jaipur, following which he can pursue further studies in Mumbai with the help of NAB. Arjun is now on the path of restoring his life back on track.

Empowering oneself to empower others

32 year old Sunny lives in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He started to lose his eyesight due to Retina Pigmentosa when he was studying in Class IV. But Sunny continued somehow and finished Class IX in a mainstream school. Due to lack of awareness and ignorance of options available for pursuing further studies as a blind person, Sunny had to drop out of school. He was pushed into a life full of despair, not knowing how to move forward. Fortunately, one of his visits to Shroff Eye Charity Hospital led him to visit Eyeway office in New Delhi. Sunny was pleasantly surprised to see visually impaired people like him work efficiently as Eyeway counselors. He saw them talk to people, inform them of possibilities and seamlessly use computers to perform their jobs. This instilled a sense of confidence in Sunny and he felt determined to achieve something. He inquired about vocational training courses he could take up in order to gain employment. Eyeway counselors directed him accordingly and Sunny trained himself into becoming self-reliant. This was six years ago.

After being empowered with the help of Eyeway, Sunny was determined to help others like him, to educate and train those who did not know about the possibilities of living life with blindness. With help from his family business of sports good manufacturing, he set up a venture to train and employ persons with disabilities. Recently Sunny contacted Eyeway yet again, this time to share details of his vocational training center. He was looking for help to find suitable disabled candidates to train. Eyeway counselor put him in touch with several organizations where he could find candidates for his center, including Silver Linings, Blind Relief Association, National Association for Blind, Jayati Bharatam Institute and so on. We also disseminated information about his training and employment offering through our website and whatsapp channels.  As a result, Sunny has found his candidates and successfully started his business of placing disabled people and empowering them. From someone who contacted us 6 years ago in utter hopelessness, Sunny has grown into an independent, economically self-reliant individual who is empowered enough to help others in need.