Accepting disability

A resident of Delhi, Balraj (name changed) began to lose his eye sight at the age of 50. He visited the Shroff Charity Eye Hospital where he was diagnosed with an eye condition called Retina Detachment. Since there is no medical solution for his condition, doctors at Shroff Hospital advised Balraj to focus on rehabilitation. In the past, Shroff Charity Eye Hospital has referred several cases to Eyeway whom they had turned down clinically. Ophthalmologists at Shroff believe Eyeway to be a helpful resource in guiding visually impaired people on how to live a life with blindness.

Balraj visited the Eyeway center in Delhi along with his wife to share his dilemma. He was in a depressed state thinking he was completely incapable of continuing with his normal life because of sight loss. Our counselor helped him understand the need to stop battling with the disability and instead focus on accepting his new state of being. At a later age, one is often set in their ways of life and less receptive to change. But in Balraj’s case, the counselor advised him to slowly adjust to his new reality and explore ways in which he could continue to lead a happy independent life.

Balraj works as an Office Superintendent with Indian Railways. He has a good track record since he joined the job as a Lower Division Clerk in 1989. His current work involved extensive computer usage which he was unable to do because of his eye condition. He was disappointed with his underperformance at the job. Eyeway apprised him of the use of computers with the aid of screen reading software and also took him through a demo on how to use a mobile phone with talk back assistance. Our counselor advised him to enroll for a mobility and computer training at National Association for Blind (NAB). We advised him to get his Disability Certificate issued, based on which he would be entitled for a needs based training while he continued in his job. All required documents were shared with Balraj, including the DoPT (Department of Personnel Training) guidelines, RPWD Act 2016 and Disability Rules. The DoPT guidelines clearly state that if a person develops a disability on the job, he/she is entitled to rehabilitative training without being marked absent from the job.

Balraj shared with the Eyeway team that he is a follower of Brahma Kumari Shivani, a spiritual teacher. He used to regularly attend her lectures but stopped going after he developed this disability. To induce positive thinking and an accepting attitude, our counselor recommended that he listen to Shivani’s lectures which are easily available online.

Balraj was relieved and happy with the engagement at Eyeway. He had in the past contacted other institutions but here he felt he received a more empathetic response to his concerns.

Balraj took the counselor’s advice and has obtained his Disability Certificate. He has now been advised to write to his Head of Department seeking permission for rehabilitative training so he can perform his job well. All necessary documents for this communication have been provided to Balraj by Eyeway.

A case of lost identity

Blind by birth, 20 year old Ali (name changed) was born in Bihar. When Ali was 5 years old, his parents who worked as daily wage laborers came to Mumbai looking for better prospects. While they couldn’t muster enough to make ends meet, they managed to admit Ali into Victoria Memorial School for the Blind (VMSB) where his boarding, lodging and education were taken care of. Ali’s parents then returned to Bihar.

Ali grew up at VMSB, learnt Marathi from an early age and completed his education up till Class X. Since VMSB does not offer education post Class X, Ali applied and got admission into Mumbai’s Wilson College. Up until now Ali led a sheltered, well provided for life in the campus of VMSB.  But now he had to step out and find himself an accommodation so he could continue his education at Wilson College. He struggled to find a hostel accommodation. Wilson College turned him down and so did several other government hostels in Mumbai.

When he contacted Eyeway to seek help, we understood the reason behind the denial of hostel accommodation to be the fact that he didn’t have a Maharashtra Domicile Certificate. All state government hostels required him to produce proof that he was a resident of Maharashtra. Ali obviously had no way of proving it because he was born in Bihar and did not have any permanent address in Mumbai. Eyeway counselor spoke to the warden at government hostel in Worli and it was made clear that Ali needed to furnish a Domicile Certificate as well as a Maharashtra Caste Certificate to get admission.  Another option was to look for a PG accommodation but that too has its challenges. Blind people tend to face difficulty in getting one and it’s also more expensive as compared to a government hostel facility.

Ali was then advised to follow the official procedure to obtain the required certificates. But since this process could take its own course and time and Ali needed an immediate solution to continue Class XI studies at Wilson College, we approached the authorities in charge at VMSB. This is when we learnt that VMSB had a similar case in the past and they agreed to provide temporary accommodation to Ali for a few months. VMSB also agreed to help Ali look for a private hostel accommodation.

Ali’s problems are manifold. He is blind. He is alone in the city. He comes from a weak economic background. In order to stay in Mumbai and continue his education here, he needs a permanent solution. Eyeway is determined to help Ali and has motivated him to follow the matter through in attaining a Domicile Certificate.

Desperate for guidance

A resident of Ahmedabad, 24 year old Ankit (name changed) is totally blind in one eye and has 25% vision in the other eye. He first contacted Eyeway Helpdesk in May 2017. However, it took him a while to open up to our counselor. Ankit seemed ridden with social stigma which made him hesitant of opening up about his condition and concerns to anyone. He made several calls to the Helpdesk using a different name identity each time. Our counselor was patient and understanding in response and as a result Ankit dropped his guard to freely share his issues.

After completing Class XII in 2014, he enrolled in a college. Unfortunately he could not complete his graduation. This was because Ankit was not aware that a blind student could use the services of a scribe for writing the exam. Ignorant of the provision, Ankit attempted writing his own exams two to three times and failed miserably.  This left him depressed and hopeless. Since then Ankit has been scouting for some guidance but he only found half-baked information in bits and pieces he could not fully comprehend. He learnt about Eyeway from a friend and decided to seek help.

Our counselor informed Ankit about the provisions for blind students to take a scribe’s assistance and also told him about the scholarship handed out by the Gujarat government to support their education. Ankit wanted to know more about his employment options. He had heard from various sources that there was a reservation for blind people in government jobs but did not anything further. Our counselor informed him of the 1% reservation quota for blind people and shared avenues in railways and banking sector. But foremost counselor emphasized on the need to undergo mobility and computer training in order to be able to perform well at any job. We explained Ankit about the use of mobile and computers through screen reading software.

Ankit expressed a desire to take up a job in the banking sector.  And while we shared information about jobs he was eligible for, both in railways and banking, Eyeway recommended him to complete his graduation in order to apply for better and higher posts in banking.  We also told him about the HK Arts College in Ahmedabad which was inclusive in its approach and very supportive of visually impaired students.

Ankit has already started to prepare for a job in the banking sector and he is keen on joining a computer training course at the Blind People’s Association (BPA). He regained his confidence and the will to do something after engaging with Eyeway.

Seeking financial security

26 year old Krishna (name changed) is totally blind since birth. Originally a resident of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, Krishna moved to Nasik to pursue his education. He finished his schooling from a government blind school and enrolled in a regular college where he completed his graduation. Krishna used braille and audio recorded books to aid him in his studies. He also took the help of his sighted friends for reading and writing.

Krishna is married and his wife who is also blind is currently studying. For the past one year, he has been working as a financial advisor for SWS Financial Solutions Pvt. Ltd. But unsure of what the future has in store for both him and his wife, Krishna felt that a private job may not provide them with as much security as compared to a government job.  He thought working in a government bank would be a safer bet given the reservation and provisions available for candidates with blindness and low vision.

He contacted Eyeway to seek help in taking the IBPS (Institute of Banking Personnel Selection) exam. Our counselor provided him with all the necessary details including date of the exam and other application details. While filing his application, he hit a road block. He was unable to proceed with the online form because of an inaccessible ‘captcha’. He shared with the counselor how he had faced similar difficulty at several other occasions in his job. The Eyeway counselor then informed Krishna about ‘Webvisum’, a plug-in that enhances web accessibility and reads out the captcha to those who are visually impaired. Applying the solution provided, Krishan was able to submit his application for the exam.

While he works as a financial advisor to several sighted clients, Krishna was facing problems with his personal banking. Bank of Maharashtra refused to issue him a chequebook because he used thumb impression instead of signature. Our counselor apprised him of his rights and gave him the IBA circular which clarifies that blind people can use thumb print on chequebook in the presence of Bank officials. Following up the same with his Bank, Krishna managed to get a chequebook issued in his name. He had a similar query regarding mutual fund, whether his thumb impression would be legit to make an investment. The counselor again shared the relevant document and guidelines that will help him resolve the matter.

Desperate to make a living

A resident of Jharkhand, 22 year old Sikander (name changed) is 100% blind since birth. Unfortunately, he didn’t continue his studies after Class VIII because of the lack of support and guidance available to blind students. Sikander had a keen interest in music, especially playing the keyboard. Sitting idle at home, he decided to channelize his time and energy into practicing and improving his skills as a musician.

As he grew older, Sikander realized the need to earn money to be able to support his family. He tried his hands at becoming a music tutor. But because he wasn’t educationally or professionally certified, he was unable to make any headway in securing a job. He then learnt about Eyeway from his friends and decided to get in touch with us.

Sikander was curious to know if there were any job options available to blind people who didn’t complete their schooling. Eyeway counselor advised Sikander to complete his education through an open school. In addition, the counselor recommended him to undergo a vocational training which would then enable him to find employment. We put him in touch with Sunny Piplani who runs VEER JI Vocational Training Centre for Persons with Disabilities in Meerut, UP. Sunny is an old client of Eyeway who is also visually impaired and yet doing extremely well for himself. His Centre provides training and employment in sports good manufacturing.  The Centre also offers free boarding and lodging facilities during the three months training. Sikander was happy to learn of this option and agreed to move forward. The team at Eyeway will keep a close tab on the progress made by Sikander so we can offer assistance wherever required.

Seeking Support for Education

Neha (name changed) graduated from school with flying colors in 2010. Her good score helped her get admission into Lady Shri Ram College, one of the top institutions in Delhi University. Neha suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa which results in gradual sight loss. Soon after she joined college as a student of Psychology (H), her eyesight began to worsen. This impacted her ability to cope with her studies and especially facing difficulty in comprehending visual elements of her course practicals. The college too did not seem to think that a visually impaired person could keep up with a subject like Psychology. Hopeless and unaware of accessible books and assistive technology, Neha dropped out of college within a year of admission.

Neha’s parents though supportive, seemed clueless as to how to help their daughter who was going blind. To ensure that she was actively engaged, they involved her in the family run baking business. Neha learnt how to bake cakes and got busy with the business. But she wanted to do more than that. She found out about National Association for Blind (NAB) and contacted them to see how they could help her. At NAB, she underwent basic computer training, where she learnt to use computers with the help of screen reader.

Neha wished to continue her education and was looking for adequate support and information to do so. She found out about Eyeway and contacted our Helpdesk. When she shared her desire to resume studies, Eyeway counselor apprised her of all kinds of aids and online resources available to assist visually impaired students with their studies. Since Neha expressed a desire to pursue English, our counselor suggested her to apply to the School of Open Learning (SOL) in Delhi University. We also put her in touch with a faculty member from the Department of English who could address Neha’s specific questions regarding the admission process. As a result of her engagement with the counselor, Neha has enrolled in BA (Honours) in English at SOL. Our counselor also encouraged her to get in touch with Eyeway if she hits any stumbling block on the path ahead.

From confusion to clarity

21 year old Reena (name changed) who belongs to Patna in Bihar has been visually impaired since birth. Her early years were spent at Antarjyoti Balika Vidyalaya in Patna. Later she moved to Delhi and enrolled in a school for blind girls at Vikaspuri. After graduating from school she went on to pursue a 3 month computer course at Bharti Kalyan Netrahin Parishad.

Like most girls her age Reena too is filled with multiple dreams and ambitions. However, unable to think things through in a clear fashion she decided to get in touch with Eyeway. She shared with our counselors how confused she was.  While on the one hand she thought it might be interesting to record books for the visually impaired on the other hand she also felt drawn to music.  Our counselor helped her understand that she could record books and pursue music, but what was most important was for her to continue with her education. They told her that pursuing an undergraduate degree would be the first step she should take. This would open up many more possibilities for her future.

2 months later we received a call from Reena telling us that she was pursuing her BA Programme from Satyawati College in Delhi University. We hope Reena is successful in her endeavors and in time finds her calling.

Technology: the biggest enabler

The idea that blind persons can be independent individuals charting out careers across a variety of fields is unthinkable to not only those who are sighted but also to many who lose sight at a later stage in life. Technology is one of the biggest factors that allows for this kind of independent living and working. Every month we get several calls from persons who, having lost their sight later in life, are clueless about how technology can help them cope and move on.

Raja (name changed) is one such person who called in from Fatehabad, Haryana. While completing his B.com in 2002 he was diagnosed with Retina Pigmentosa and by 2004 he’d lost most of his vision.

Today, Raja is the owner of a pipe manufacturing factory. He is assisted in his work by his co-owners and other associates. He got in touch with Eyeway because he wanted to understand how he could better adapt to the sighted world.  He seemed quite clueless about the range of assistive technology that was available for visually impaired persons to engage with others on an equal footing.  Our counselors gave him an overview of gadgets, software, apps and other aids like the smart cane that can enable and empower visually impaired persons to become independent and self-reliant. He was curious to know if there was a better way to use his iPhone. We educated him about the accessibility features that were inbuilt in most smart phones. We guided him to activate and use the Voice over feature on his iPhone.

He got back to tell us how thankful he was for opening up a whole world to him. He was so much more comfortable using his phone now. We sincerely hope that more phone companies consciously advertise accessibility features to blind persons.

Aadhar blues made right

50 year old Mukesh (name changed), a resident of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra works at the Zila Parishad Office and has been blind since birth. Mukesh has had an Aadhar card since 2009. Although biometric proof for Aadhar requires both finger and eyes to be scanned, in Mukesh’s case he was granted one with just the finger scan.

In 2017, the government made it mandatory for everyone to link Aadhar card with PAN card. Mukesh was facing trouble since the name on his Aadhar card had a spelling mistake and did not match the one on the PAN card. Also he was keen to start using the Aadhar website so he could track things online. To do so he needed to update his mobile number and e-mail id.

At the Aadhar office the authorities seemed unwilling to cooperate. They insisted that because he was blind he would not able to go through the standard biometric procedure of the eyes being scanned.  This was sufficient reason for them to not update the information. And so Mukesh left the Aadhar office dejected and unsure how to take things forward.

He decided to seek support from the Eyeway Helpdesk. Our counselor assured him that the authorities had no right to deny him the card. They informed him about the rules that clearly state that no person can be denied an Aadhar card on the basis of their disability. The confidence that the counselors instilled in Mukesh inspired him to resolve the matter. He went back to the Aadhar office and educated the authorities about the rules that they were flouting by denying him the card. They instantly realized their mistake and were quick to make amends.

His name and e-mail id have finally been updated and he is able to access the website. Eyeway is there to support and instill courage in so many who have to wage a daily battle against ignorance and discrimination. When will the authorities realize that acts, laws, schemes and policies only have meaning when disseminated and implemented effectively.

Making Currency Accessible to the Blind

By Payal Jethra

A ten year old shares with his visually impaired mother, his ideas on how to make Indian currency accessible to persons with blindness.

“That was a 200 not 20 rupee note we handed to the man at the provisional store,” says the ten year old.” As he sat sipping chocolate milk after their return from the grocery store that Saturday evening. “Are you sure about that, Sweetheart?” inquired his mother, “There were two two-hundred rupee notes in my wallet this morning, I am positive. At the grocery store I swiped my debit card and I’m always aware of bank notes that I carry along, at least I have been pretty sure of myself up until these newly introduced notes have made cash transactions perplexing for me.” said Payal as she picked up her coffee to join her ten year old for an evening snack by the window. The duo had shopped for groceries and stopped at a provisional store outside the store to pick up a 10 rupee dairy milk chocolate for each one of them. That would have amounted to 20 rupees, but Payal ended up paying 200.

Read more