Raising Awareness…
Here are some stories about the people we have helped, which explains the impact of our work and why we feel it is so important.

Sailing against the winds

With the living example of a father who gave up and confined to the house with his partial blindness, Sumit Kumar’s parents were apprehensive of him doing the same. This thought always hurt his mother and brother who took the responsibility of the family on their shoulders after his father gave up his private job. Both mother and brother work in the public sector and earn for the family. Sumit’s mother intervened in his life strongly to empower him and help him live an independent life.

She put him in the nearby mainstream school and he studied there with the support of his mother, friends and teachers. His family and school authorities were unaware of scribes or special educators and aids or technology for the visually impaired that Sumit learned the hard way memorizing notes, listening to his parents and friends reading out loud, taking the help of friends to write etc. With the support of his mother he never left his education at any point. After school he joined for Bachelor’s degree in History. And by now he started taking the help of scribes to give his exams. He successfully finished his graduation and went on to pursue post-graduation. It was during this period he got know about Eyeway from his friends in college. Knowing about these services he contacted Eyeway looking for an accessible reference text book for his semester exams. Though there are online libraries like ‘Sugamya Pustakalaya’ where from one can download accessible books, he wasn’t aware of that. Eyeway counselor was quick to react. The required book was downloaded in an accessible format and shared with Sumit.

Sumit’s life could have gone the same way as his father’s which would have left his mother devastated like she was for her husband. But he chose otherwise, his mother thought otherwise and he has almost become a testimony to many people who give in to their problems by blaming it on their circumstances or parents or anything except oneself.

Empowering an aspirant

Employment for visually impaired (VI) is still a challenge even after the government taking adequate steps to identify jobs for persons with disabilities (PwDs), exhort private sector to employ PwDs, and after bringing equality in appointments and promotions. On one hand, VIs experience information asymmetry of various government provisions for them and on the other, outright rejection by ignorant and unaware authorities.

Sainudeen is 26 years old and from Malappuram district of Kerala. He is visually impaired in one eye enucleated at the age of 4 years. He has full vision in the right eye. He has done post-graduation in History through distance learning. Hailing from a conservative family, neither he nor anyone in his family has much knowledge about vision impairment. Also, being brought up in a highly religious household with strong beliefs; religious interpretations prevail in the household. Thus, no external support to empower Sainudeen was ever sought in his lifetime before meeting with the Eyeway counselor. He hails from a middle class average income family and his father is employed in the local mosque. He is the only earning member in the family. His brothers are studying and one sister is married. His highly religious family background was the biggest challenge to counsel him. He was never ready to listen to any helpful rational explanation to improve his life. This limited the counseling to his employment and marriage, the only two things he was ready to discuss.

Sainudeen has been a prosthetic-eye user since removal of his damaged eye from his very childhood. Now he has been upgrading his prosthetic eye to a more customized eye in Little Flower Hospital which brought him in touch with Eyeway. His vision impairment is certified as 40% and above and he is a recipient of disability pension. Following the tradition in his family he is looking to find a job soon and get married. The main challenge he faces is one of seeking employment. He appears to have internalized all other aspects of his life. And the family seemed to have already chosen life path where no other advice matters to them. He seemed rigid on just knowing about the employment opportunities, both public and private sector. Information on job opportunities was duly shared with Sainudeen and in addition, he was informed about the provision of a free computer through Panchayat office and some assistive devices that could come in handy for him.

On a follow-up with Sainudeen, the counselor could understand that he has registered his resume with the job consultancies and he’s also received some interview calls. Sainudeen expressed his happiness in finding him job opportunities and for the services offered by Eyeway. This being the first interaction, Eyeway knows what it would take to make Sainudeen more cooperative is periodic follow-ups. Having built significant trust, Eyeway expects to address the other issues in Sainudeen’s life gradually.

Stemming the confidence loss

Everyone faces bouts of high confidence and low confidence in their lives linked to many different circumstances they face. But the challenge is to surmount both the highs and lows because it is harmful either ways, if in overdose. It is importanr to have a clear mind and strong mental health to navigate through these phases of life. And this is regarded globally significant for a healthy human future. This is why UN has adopted Good Health and Well Being as Goal 3 among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, where mental health gets a significant mention.

Eyeway counselors met with 22 year old Satpal and his sister Saroj from Faridabad, Haryana. They were referred to Score Foundation from National Association for the Blind (NAB), Haryana. They decided to travel and meet with the counselors. And that effort didn’t go in vain. Satpal is 80% visually impaired and experiencing a loss of confidence for the last three years. His vision is slowly deteriorating and he is finding it hard to accept this change because he grew up like any other kid in the neighbourhood, playing and frolicking with them, playing outdoor games like cricket which happens to be his favorite.

But now it has been a long time since he played cricket, in fact, four years since he has even agreed to go out of his house. He belongs to a poor family. His father’s daily wage from a nearby cloth manufacturing company is the only income in the family. And his elder sister Saroj takes care of his mobility and basic needs on a daily basis. Satpal has done schooling from a mainstream school in Faridabad and his sister helped him in completing his 12th standard. After finishing his school he has been sitting idle at home for the last four years. He didn’t want to go outside the house or try out anything new. He almost resigned to a thought that he is helpless and there is nothing more to his existence.

But meeting with Eyeway counselors gave him a new perspective and his sister some hope. For each problem of his that was a heavy load on him, Eyeway provided basic solutions. For achieving a new skill, counselors suggested him to join National Federation for the Blind (NFB) in Haryana, for employment he was advised to gain some coaching from NAB, R.K Puram, Delhi wherefrom he could also have access to books, screen reader and other study material. And to pursue his favourite game, Eyeway suggested Samarthanam Trust, Delhi for cricket coaching. This has lit up his world. He has already joined NFB, Faridabad for the 6 months computer training and will pursue the other suggestions gradually.

To make disability a way of life and not an inability, acceptance of one’s body and mind is important. Optimism and confidence must also be mustered for having good mental health. All one needs for it is a positive environment. Eyeway strongly believes Satpal has reinvented his confidence and he will exploit it for his own good.

Need to identify the real reasons

Poverty and rising population is a national issue. Large families stricken with severe poverty is an issue in India since Independence. This has threatened ability of the nation itself to meet the social, economic and political demands of the people. Though the demographic trend is changing for good, there is still a lot more to come in control to prevent population explosion. The demographic forecast for our largely populated country is still an upward growing graph in the coming decades. Eyeway has tackled many cases of large families mired in poverty and disability among one or more of the family members. These families either tend to disown the disabled members or blame them for all their misfortunes, while the real reasons behind their hardships remain unearthed.

Bhawanraya Hardekar is visually impaired and belongs to one such large family of six. He is from Solapur, Maharashtra and 24 years old. His parents are daily wage earners whose meagre income is on which the whole family survives. He has been suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) since birth which has led to gradual vision loss. One among his siblings, his elder sister, Manjula is also suffering from the same condition. While Manjula is least exposed to the world outside, Bhawanraya is slightly better off. Manjula has only completed primary school education and is extremely dependent on others in the family for her daily survival. Bhawanraya has studied till 9th standard in the nearby village mainstream school. He stopped his schooling in 2011, after 9th class due his challenges in the classroom and the inability of the family to meet his school expenses like tuition, books, uniforms etc.

He joined National Association for the Blind (NAB), Solapur where he underwent basic skills and vocational training courses for the next three years. He got to know about Eyeway during this stint and contacted the Helpdesk in 2017. He wanted to know about various government provisions like disability pension, scholarships, employment opportunities, financial assistance etc. He was seeking employment opportunities but Eyeway counselor informed him that 9th standard is not enough to find employment and he will need to pursue higher education. Procedure to apply for disability pension was also shared by the counselor. But finance was escalating as a problem for him to pursue any ambition. Eyeway counselor suggested a rounded solution where Bhawanraya could enrol for massage training in NAB, Mumbai which could become a potential source of income for him and thus find free accommodation as well in NAB. And once he is finished with the training he can start privately consulting clients for therapy to earn an income. Also simultaneously he could join a night school or open board and finish his education. This solution worked for Bhawanraya, he joined for cane-making training at NAB.

He also applied for disability pension for himself and his sister in the Tehsildar’s office and it was approved in 2018 but the benefits have not yet been disbursed. When he approached us with this grievance Eyeway counselor suggested him to write to the office of Maharashtra State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (MSCPD). Also it was understood that his sister’s situation is even worse. She had never undergone any rehabilitation programme and was confined to the house for the past several years. Her family expected her to take over the household chores but she is so helpless having no awareness or independent skills to lead her life with dignity. Counselor suggested placing her in a rehabilitation program soon so that she could learn some basic skills to be able to function independently.

This is the condition of many families who are in the lower rung of social strata in India. They are disabled by many issues. Poverty, caste, education, employment, income etc. are only a few disabling factors they deal with every day. Lack of sex education is a major reason for such large families. They also suffer from diminishing income and live in inhuman conditions away from any substantial government visibility. This has become a global threat and especially in the case of India IMF Chief Christine Laggard said the wealth of Indian billionaires have grown tenfold that the poverty of India can be eradicated twice, thus it is not only problem of wealth. Eyeway strongly hopes that Bhawanraya will get through all these challenges and empower his sister as well. For this there is lot more he need to do and has to stay courageous.

Getting ready for a rainy day

Information dissemination is a key area our country has to focus on. Many of the policies and decisions designed by the government are unknown to the public as well as the several institutions serving them. Information asymmetry can be considered a major reason in India for the improper management of domain issues. This asymmetry affects people in many ways, from not knowing how to avail their basic needs and institutions failing to provide them.

Lalit Kumar Mishra is 18 years old and from a financially well-to-do farmer family. He is blind in one eye from Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) since birth. He has studied in a mainstream school with support from his parents, teachers and friends. He has substantial vision in his other eye so he never needed any scribe, reader or special educator’s assistance in his education. After schooling he enrolled for graduation in Bachelor of Science (BSc) but losing interest and failing in couple of subjects he decided to leave the course and join Arts stream, which he did in the same college the very next year.

Lalit connected to Eyeway for the first time in 2016 getting to know about it from public domain. His call was another revelation to Eyeway that visually impaired people irrespective of marginalized or well-off are far removed from the process of information dissemination in the country. His better financial status was no assurance for him to have better awareness to fulfil his social and economic needs. This could also be out of ignorance but also a case of institutions taking no responsibility. Getting a debit card or furnishing a certificate is not easy for a visually impaired individual as it is for someone who is sighted. They still have to find government guidelines and notifications and produce it physically at many offices to fulfil their needs. There must be information centres in place which will keep the people abreast of the functions of institutions in place so that a contact number, notifications, email ids or building addresses are no more a mystery to the common man.

Lalit contacted Eyeway to get information on getting a debit card and a disability certificate which is integral to a disabled person. Our counselor promptly guided him with the RBI circular, RPWD guidelines and the contact information on the designated medical authority in his place of residence. Also, all the required documents needed to be produced at the time of applying for the disability certificate was conveyed to him. Counselor also enquired about his education during the conversation, guiding him with education and career options, technological aids which he could use to make studying easier etc. The counselor also forewarned him about the challenges ahead so that gets accustomed to them and braces for possible impediments.

It is just the beginning for Lalit and he hasn’t started thinking about a job, extent of education or a future broadly. He is still in the warmth of a financially secured family but challenges will abound with RP deteriorating his vision gradually. Eyeway hopes Lalit and his family gather information, training and the required skill set to foray into a more independent future.

A tricky situation

Every educated individual dreams for a well-paid job which is related to their education and training. But in the Indian scenario, our education and jobs are two such entities where education guarantees no specific employment. Indian bureaucracy that houses the mandarins of policy-making is itself the biggest example for it. There you find for example, a literature graduate manning the energy department or an engineering graduate manning the rural development department. But in India this is not an anomaly where a large number of youth leave schools and colleges for finding employment.

Similarly, Subhojit Das, a visually impaired youth declined a job opportunity at a crucial time in his life. He took this decision after he had to leave his previous job of a software developer with a start-up company due to his visual impairment. These decisions have turned things tricky in his life. It can be either lauded as a courageous decision because in one way his decision lays bare his need for a job he is qualified for which contrary to the common circumstances and can be criticised as a poor decision considering the current context of employment in India.

Born with a deteriorating vision inflicted by Glaucoma, 26 years old Subhojit from Pakur, Jharkhand overcame many challenges to live his life yet. He hails from a middle income family and is the only child. To become physically independent, to get educated, and to get his first job were all challenges he overcame with his hard work. While studying in a mainstream school he struggled to keep up with the challenges of the classroom. Gathering study material, following the blackboard, writing exams were all hard for him. He never knew about scribes or technology that could aid his studies, thus took help of his friends to read and write. In between he also underwent regular treatment for his eyes though much of it didn’t stem his losing vision. It was from a private tutor he learned for the first time about scribes and technology available for education, who also inspired him to pursue higher education after schooling. He made use of this valuable information and pursued graduation in Engineering in Computer Science and completed the course from University Institute of Technology, West Bengal in 2014. He found a job with a private company as a Software Developer and was working while he had to undergo an eye operation in 2016. This led him to give up his job. It was from LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad where he underwent his operation in 2016, he got to know about Eyeway. When he contacted Eyeway for the first time in 2016 he had many questions on employment, disability pension, concessions etc.

Since then Eyeway has been in constant communication with Subhojit resolving many of his issues. Eyeway counsellor also gathered his resume and shared it with Eyeway partner EnAble India, Bengaluru and multiple job providers. This has resulted in him receiving interview calls from HCL, Cisco etc. Ultimately Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh recruited him as Public Relations Officer (PRO). But he hasn’t yet taken up the job chiefly because he recognises his lack of PR and marketing skills desired in this job capacity, while he remains confident of his computer skills. Eyeway has encouraged him to go ahead with the opportunity but like any ambitious and educated individual, he is weighing his options, determined to focus on his core skills, computer engineering.

A convoluted journey but a hopeful one

Santosh Vakole’s life is a testimony for those millions of people who are marginalized to invisibility in India and the difficulty to get out of that rut. Disability, poverty, lack of access to education, unemployment, and many such circumstances are detriments to the social and economic progress of our country. When politics and its promises fail to deliver to these people, they become victims to the bias of the law, failure of the markets and vagaries of the weather. The age old adage proves true each time ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

24 year old Santosh Vakole is from Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, the youngest among four siblings and the only visually impaired from an economically poor family. Poverty is his largest experience on living life and everything else is secondary to him and his family. With their four children his parents have suffered much and income from his father’s painting job was never sufficient. Much earlier in their lives the family shifted to Mumbai seeking better employment opportunities. But what the father plying his painting job could earn was not enough to take care of the growing children and their needs. Being uneducated and unaware, his parents had no idea about a life with blindness. They were better off thinking about the other three sighted children and thus the family survived each day struggling to make ends meet. Parents put Santosh in the nearby Municipal Corporation School, a mainstream school where he struggled to keep up with the demands of the classroom. His only support were his friends who read aloud the class notes for him, helping Santosh study for exams and also in writing exams. The school didn’t have any facilities to cater to his needs. He also had no knowledge about any technology or aids in making education easier for himself. Thus, his education continued as a conundrum in his life. What his parents could do was minimal; they were capable of only sending him out into the world and expect the world to mould him.

He continued education for a few more years before financial troubles forced the family to relocate to Aurangabad. In Aurangabad their financial condition didn’t improve and they struggled living in a slum. But his parents didn’t stop educating him and he was put in a residential special school for visually impaired boys in Jalna in 6th standard. Here he learned Braille and acquired few basic skills to manage his life forward and finished his 12th standard. But the family’s financial troubles were not giving them any let-up even after so many years. Thus, Santosh decided to not study further but join some vocational training which will help him find employment soon. He joined National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai and underwent various training programs there. With some basic vocational training he tried for jobs but failed to gain one. This prompted him to pursue further education. After spending a year on training and job hunting, he joined for under graduation in a college in Mumbai. But his misfortunes continued. This time he was denied a scribe to write his exams. Santosh left the college in Mumbai and came back to Aurangabad and enrolled for graduation again.

By now his parents were finding hard to care for him. They expected him to earn and take care of himself. Also he needed much physical support; for instance, his mother had to help him negotiate the railway tracks every day, next to where they lived so that he could get to college. His college fee, daily expenses and dependence on others made the family uncomfortable. Family support waned. Santosh got to know about Eyeway from a friend of his and contacted for the first time in 2017. After that he is in constant touch with Eyeway, clearing various day to day doubts of his and Eyeway empowering him to become independent and mentally stronger. He wanted to know about some education scholarship so that he can meet his college fees himself and on any other available financial support. Eyeway counsellor shared with him some useful information on scholarships and government schemes he could avail. Now again he faced exam related issues in college. This time it was relating to extra time and eligibility regarding the scribe. College authorities argued for a lesser qualified scribe and allowed no extra time. Here Eyeway intervened and suggested him to settle the issue by contacting the University. Santosh did as directed by the Eyeway counselor; the university acknowledged the guidelines and conveyed the same to the college authorities. Thus, his issue was successfully resolved and he gave his exams with the help of a scribe of his choice with extra time.

Though nothing much has changed in his family in terms of their finances or attitude towards him, Santosh is hopeful of a change in the near future. He is positive about finishing college, finding a job and helping out his family in the best way possible. Eyeway has offered all support to him and wishes him the best ahead.

Inspiration is around the corner, success is nigh!

Family is not always a fixed idea of father, mother, husband or wife for everyone but also friends, colleagues, or even strangers met with at a common place for some. The role family plays is significant in shaping the lives of all individuals. But how much their role gets visibility and how much of it gets acknowledged? Ignoring credit or criticism, people care, share and love to stay together and such virtues lay the framework for a strong family.

Rupali from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh is fortunate to be born in one such family. She is only 15 years old and visually impaired. She was born with Septicemia, a blood-stream infection which was life threatening in the beginning. Her parents sought a permanent fix for her condition and underwent all possible treatments they could. Treatments were largely futile. The blood stream infection affected her eyes in few years. Though the Septicemia treatment showed positive results, she gradually started losing her eyesight and that seemed irreversible. For a forthcoming girl like her, losing eyesight was an inexplicable feeling. She had to always stay put in the house which she never liked. She couldn’t go out anymore cycling with her neighbourhood friends, her schooling seemed uncertain to pursue and her horizon shrivelled in size day by day. By the time she reached 2nd standard in school, her parents stopped sending her to school, and not only that, they started tailing her all around. Her family started overly protecting her and mostly because of a lack of awareness. Her mother and three elder sisters took good care of her while her father left for work as a teacher in the nearby village school. It never went through their mind to educate her, train her or make her independent. They were more than happy in taking care of her.

At the age of 9 years Rupali underwent a surgery to prevent further vision loss but it did not bring about any tangible difference. Her eyesight kept deteriorating alongside her family’s hopes. At around 15 years of age, she lost 100 per cent of her vision. During this period her sisters pursued education and the eldest sister also got married. And Rupali grew into a quiet adolescent girl who needed her sisters’ support to speak, walk and almost do everything. Her world started getting smaller and she also started to accept it subconsciously. Having no exposure to life with blindness, she and her family needed a strong intervention.

Her brother-in-law, who works as a Sales and Marketing Executive with a private company in Gurgaon suffered at the circumstance endured by his little sister. He tried to help in the ways he knew but he also didn’t know much about a life with blindness. It took three years for him to figure out that a life with blindness can be worked out for Rupali. His enquiry among friends, colleagues and on the internet led him to Eyeway. He watched Eyeway’s TV series ‘Nazar Ya Nazariya’ on YouTube and was overwhelmed watching episodes 12 and 13 on Policies & Law and Universal Design respectively. This feeling of right to a life with dignity, seeking out the policies and laws filled him with hope for Rupali.

He patiently watched the entire series and on finding Eyeway’s number, he contacted the Helpdesk and shared his sister-in-law’s entire story. While the family’s love and support for Rupali was inspiring, certain facts were disappointing too. They didn’t know anything about restoring Rupali’s life to normal but her brother-in-law was not ready to give up. He wanted to know whether Rupali could gain education and personal independence. Though during the conversation the counselor tried talking to Rupali, she was reluctant to speak. The family was assured of the possibility of living life with blindness. Counselor confirmed the need for rehabilitation, training and education for Rupali so that she could live a full life.

And for starters, the counselor suggested All India Confederation for the Blind (AICB), New Delhi for rehabilitation training and NIOS or CBSE open board for pursuing her school education. This conversation with Eyeway counselors instilled a lot of confidence in her family and helped them build trust in Eyeway. This enabled them to encourage Rupali to communicate with the counselors directly. Eyeway team called and spoke to Rupali to understand her issues clearly. On communicating with her, it was felt that she is lacking in confidence and needed a lot of exposure to the outside world to overcome it. Her introvert life within the household hadn’t helped her much. She seemed to be lacking any vivid ideas on education, employment and an independent life. She had to borrow sentences from her sister who was prompting from behind to communicate. But the family is hopeful, now that they have found a saviour in Rupali’s brother-in-law and in fact, he found out Eyeway. They will be bringing Rupali to admit her in AICB for rehabilitation training in the month of August.

Looking for a quick fix

To find a new job in a new profession for a middle-aged person is always difficult. And when it is a 41-year-old, 80% visually impaired man it gets even harder. Prathap from Thiruvananthapuram contacted Eyeway in March 2018 seeking job opportunities. He is a well-qualified person with a B.Com degree who held a consistent job as a printing press manager. Prathap managed to live independently despite weak vision. He is married and father of a young boy who is in school. Now that his wife who is a teacher has to relocate to Delhi and that the printing press is shutting down, he is looking for a new job.

Understanding the importance of computer know-how to land a decent job, Prathap contacted Eyeway for computer based training opportunities. But after numerous interactions, our counselor understood that it is consistent and improved income that is Prathap’s priority. Understanding this need, the counselor suggested options which have greater opportunities and also some open vacancies. The counselor conveyed to Prathap the lucrativeness of massage/physiotherapy jobs which are also higher paid with more vacancies with surging demand for visually impaired people. The counselor convinced Prathap that this might be a better option in order to meet his immediate needs.

After helping Prathap make a decision, Eyeway counselor communicated with Blind Relief Association (BRA), Delhi and confirmed his admission into the training program. This is a short-term course and will have multiple employment opportunities. Prathap will be joining the program in July.

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.