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.

Ignorance and Apathy

Born blind in Pune, Maharashtra, Shruti Gujjar suffered at the hands of her family’s ignorance. Abandoned by her biological mother when she was only one, her stepmother considered the little girl a worthless burden. Family’s neglect led to delayed developmental milestones in Shruti, furthering her dependence on them.

The Eyeway centre in Mumbai received a desperate call from her stepmother, looking to rid herself of the girl’s responsibility. She asked for organizations that could offer permanent accommodation to her.

After a series of engagements, the Eyeway counselor understood the respective challenges faced by both mother and daughter. It was pertinent to counsel the family as much as looking for solutions to rehabilitate the girl.

Eyeway succeeded in sensitizing the mother towards the visually impaired girl’s different needs. Shruti could be an equal member of the family, like her sighted step brother, once she acquired adequate skills of independent living.

The real challenge was to find an organization willing to spend extra time and effort in training the thirteen-year-old to overcome her limitations. Institutions in and around Pune didn’t offer residential training facilities and so the counselor looked for solutions outside. An institute in Surendra Nagar, Gujarat has responded in the affirmative to impart rehabilitation training and other skills.

Absence of timely intervention not only stunted Shruti’s growth, but also turned the family apathetic towards the young child. Often the lack of support and solutions to families with visually impaired children provokes drastic measures like desertion.

Despite the Integrated Child Protection Schemes for vulnerable children in India, there are thousands like Shruti who are left to count on their fate. To ensure that such children also stand a fair chance at life, resources and mechanisms have to be in place to help them realise their true potential.

Evolving with exposure

In 2011, a timid young girl called the Eyeway Helpdesk from Kashmir. She asked several questions pertaining to vision impairment but was wary of giving out any personal details. Only several calls later did we figure that Qurat Khan suffered from gradual vision loss due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Studying in Class 12, she explained her struggles in the classroom with the printed syllabus.
Qurat is one of the many visually impaired girls, who find themselves at the receiving end of societal stigma towards disability. She thought of herself as someone lesser than her ‘normal’ peers.
But the Eyeway counselors slowly helped her realise what all she could accomplish by learning new techniques. She was introduced to technology that would help her with studies and her mobility.
After undergoing the recommended computer training course at Enable India in Bangalore, she started to regain her confidence. With assistive technology, education became easier.
28 years old now, Qurat has secured a job as a primary school teacher. She called us recently to get first-hand insights into teaching sighted students.
Eyeway put her in touch with a blind teacher in Rajasthan, who is experienced in instructing a mainstream classroom. This interaction would prove informative and helpful for Qurat who is set to start her career. She would learn of tips and tools to aid her in imparting lessons seamlessly.
Apart from disseminating information and counseling, Eyeway often refers callers to other visually impaired people who may have more experience in a particular field.
This helps us build a network of visually impaired people who can help each other resolve various issues and reduce their dependence on sighted people or even a service like ours.

In spite of indifference and ignorance

Blind by birth, 33-year-old Deepak Daware is the sole breadwinner of his family in Nanded district of Maharashtra.

Deepak dropped out of college, ignorant of how to continue his education with his vision impairment. He then took up menial jobs for the sake of sustenance.

Struggling with an unstable and low income from selling knick-knacks, he applied for disability pension under the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana.

But the officials declared him ineligible for the provision as his yearly income exceeded the cap of INR 21,000.

Recently the annual income limit for the said scheme was revised to INR 50,000 and Deepak made a second trip to the district office to claim his pension.

Unaware and insensitive officials simply turned him away yet again, denying any such revision issued by the state department. Denied of his rights, Deepak asked Eyeway to intervene.

The Eyeway counselor provided him with the government resolution stating the revised provision and asked him to submit a copy of the same along with his disability pension application.

All paper work in order, Deepak and five of his visually impaired friends will soon receive the first installment of their disability pension.

Happy to have helped them, Eyeway didn’t stop at that. Our counselor identified job vacancies based on Deepak’s present qualifications. He was encouraged to complete his graduation simultaneously, so he can seek better employment opportunities in the future.

How long can we expect visually impaired people to continue relying on piece-meal offerings by the government?

In line with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, there is an urgent need to steer people away from a ‘reservations-based’ mindset towards a more ‘empowering’ approach by providing them with equal opportunities of education and employment.

Aspiration, Perseverance, Optimism

Naseer Rashid lost his eye sight in an accident when he was three. A resident of the conflict ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir, where sighted students struggle to access mainstream education, Naseer’s family was unaware of ways to raise their blind child.

At 7, Naseer began his education in a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan camp, enthusiastic and determined to work hard. As he grew older, he started exploring provisions in place for people with vision impairment, so he could cross the barriers in his path. Facing an issue with his scribe while appearing for Class X Board exam, the knowledge of government issued guidelines helped him fight for his rights.

Currently pursuing his final year of graduation, Naseer has been in regular contact with Eyeway for information on accessible study material. He has made use of free online libraries and assistive technology to further his educational goals.

But in a recent political jolt, he was confined to his home once again. As soon as the phone lines were restored in Kashmir, Naseer sought Eyeway’s help to pursue a skill-based training programme outside of the state.

His ambitions mired in confusion, Eyeway guided him with higher education options in other states. He was also made to enroll in a computer training programme under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana in Delhi.

The computer course will not only help him study independently using technology but also equip him to work alongside sighted peers.

Naseer wants to complete his Masters and Ph.D. in a more accessible environment. He aspires to return qualified and ensure that every visually impaired kid in his state continues to dream big.

Donning a new avatar

34-year-old Praveen Shankhdhar had a steady career in advertising before he experienced sudden sight loss. He lost his job as an Art Director, given the inability to work using visual media. Too shocked to respond, he reached out to his family.

He went from one eye doctor to another but his vision continued to recede. Praveen was barely able to accept his physical condition when his family abandoned him. Married and a father of a three-year-old girl, he was further traumatized by such brutal indifference.

Fortunately, his friends offered support and sent him to Shankar Nethralaya for treatment. But the vision loss was permanent and the doctors suggested him to undergo rehabilitation.

Praveen felt hopeless until he joined the one-year training programme at the All India Confederation for the Blind. When he saw other visually impaired people, studying, working and functioning independently, he was pleasantly surprised.

As he learnt new skills, reorienting his ways, his notion of blindness began to change. But he was still unemployed. In a round table discussion organized by Eyeway, Praveen got an opportunity to narrate his personal account to a gathering of medical and rehabilitation professionals, government body and non-profit representatives working towards empowering people with vision impairment.

As a fallout of his interactions at the conference, Praveen was recently offered a job by the General Secretary of National Association for Blind (NAB) Delhi. Almost three years later, Praveen has resumed work as a Project Officer at NAB. He is happy to put his prior managerial experience and newly acquired skills to use in the new role.

Praveen is determined to show the world what he or any blind person can achieve.

Sharing his blessings

The Eyeway Helpdesk receives 1500 to 2000 calls a month from visually impaired people across India. Most callers ask for opportunities of education and employment, government provisions and guidelines, aids and appliances, anything that will enable them to lead an independent life.

While the majority of the country’s 5.4 million blind population is a victim to ignorance, there are some who belie the stereotypes and ill-conceived societal notions with their hard work and grit.

A resident of Akola in Maharashtra, 44-year-old Rajesh Borle is one such case. Blind by birth, Rajesh was fortunate to have a supportive family and access to mainstream education. After acing his school examinations, Rajesh completed his MA and B.Ed. He has since been working as a special educator in an integrated school in his hometown.

During the course of his job, he learnt of the challenges faced by some of his visually impaired pupils. Their families treated them as a burden, some were abandoned, some struggled to pay for their education and accommodation.

Rajesh decided to help his students by not only spending extra time teaching but also lodging eight of them at his home. He would often call the Eyeway helpline in Mumbai seeking information on scholarships under government schemes, other benefits for students and the latest technology that could help in improving access to study material.

His own income insufficient to meet all the needs of his family and students, he thought of making additional money from investing in the stock market. Eyeway put him in touch with a group of visually impaired investors for expert advice.

Contrary to common perception of disability leading to dependency, Rajesh Borle is an ‘enabler’. Having overcome his own challenges, he is now determined to empower as many visually impaired children as he can.

Defying the odds

21-year-old Sandeep Kumar was born blind in Samastipur, Bihar. He struggled against all odds to study till Class 8. Schools in his district denied him admission and teachers didn’t want to waste their time on a blind boy. He was fourteen when he enrolled in a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan camp, where he learnt to read and write in Braille. Despite his interest and hard work, his progress was stunted by lack of awareness and scant resources.

His family wanted him to marry a sighted girl who could look after him. When he called to seek Eyeway’s help in the matter, it was evident that he wasn’t convinced. He knew marriage entailed responsibility and he wasn’t well-equipped.

Sandeep had taken initiative to educate himself using his knowledge of Braille. He even learnt to use a smartphone exploring the built-in TalkBack feature. But he didn’t know of a proper way forward and that’s where Eyeway helped him.

Learning about possibilities of education and employment, Sandeep persuaded his family to put the marriage plans on hold until he becomes ‘able’.

Today, Sandeep is in Delhi, all set to start a short-term course in learning computers using screen reading software. He has enrolled to appear for Class 10 through open schooling. And he plans to join a one-year multi-skill training programme in January 2020.

Sandeep wants to bring about a change in the way things stand back home. He doesn’t want other blind kids to suffer at the hands of mainstream institutions in the absence of special educators. He wants to use his acquired knowledge and skills in imparting better education.

As for marriage, that will happen in due course once he finds someone who can respect him for his abilities.

Counseling for a bright future

Prabhsimran Singh visited the Eyeway Helpdesk in Delhi along with his mother in the year 2018 seeking career guidance. The twenty-five-year-old from Gurugram, Haryana is visually impaired since his childhood and has completed his BA (H) in Hindi from Delhi University. Born into a middle-class family, his father is a businessman and mother is a private school teacher. Growing up he felt overprotected by his mother, who also constantly compared him to other children in the family. This left him under-confident.

 
During the interaction, the Eyeway counsellor understood the underlying issues faced by Prabhsimran, his interests, which helped to chalk out an action plan for his future. He was told about various career options based on his educational background and encouraged to pursue a Master’s degree for better job opportunities. Since he was open for both private and government jobs he was encouraged to enroll for our partner ‘ Enable India’s’ employability training where he would learn personal grooming and professional etiquettes. Besides advising him on career, his mother was also counseled on how she could handle her son better and empower him by being patient and allowing him to do things on his own, and to pursue his interests.

 
Today Prabhsimran has already completed the 7-month computer and mobility training from Bangalore where he has learnt various skills like report writing that will help him with future jobs. He has regained his confidence and participates in various sports and other activities. Travelling and living independently has added to his confidence and he is now looking forward to clearing his Institute of Banking Personnel Selection Examination.

Starting all over again

39-year-old Kiran from Kerala was forced to leave his high paying job in the Gulf when he gradually began to lose his sight due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder. A computer hardware engineer by profession, Kiran came back to India as he could not cope with the demands of the job with 75% vision loss.

 
Desperate to find alternate opportunities to sustain himself, he called our Eyeway Helpdesk in Kerala enquiring about government provisions for visually impaired people in his state. He was also looking for suitable government jobs that could help him secure his future.
While the counsellor guided him to apply for disability pension at a local Panchayat office as an immediate arrangement, the counselor also realized the need for his re-orientation. He was further suggested to undergo mobility training from Kerala Federation of the Blind, to lead an independent life.

 
Kiran has completed his training and he now uses a white cane to navigate around independently. He was also given information on various coaching centres where he could train for government competitive examinations. He is constantly updated about various job openings and relevant information through Eyeway’s WhatsApp messaging service.
Kiran is grateful to Eyeway for guiding him and helping him start his life afresh.

Moving forward with optimism

Everything was going perfectly for thirty-one-year-old Sudhir Kumar from Jehanabad, Bihar. Married and father to three children, he worked as an accountant to fend for his family. This short-lived secured life ended when he was prescribed medication by the doctor for an eye irritation that reacted adversely, causing sudden vision loss. After extensive and prolonged treatment, the doctor could only restore 20 % of his vision. During this period, he had to let go of his job causing financial distress to the family.

Despite being faced with challenges, Sudhir Kumar believed he was still capable of taking up another job to support his family. As the only working member of the family, he was determined to change things. When he heard about Eyeway helpline from a low vision care unit, he called up to seek employment opportunities. Realizing the need for re-orientation, the Eyeway counselor suggested him various training centers where he could learn mobility and skills like technology and computer usage. This set of skills would help Sudhir become employable and carry out his work independently in his daily life.

Meanwhile, Sudhir has cleared Tier I Staff Selection Commission Multi-Tasking Examination and is preparing for the second paper due shortly.

Looking forward to the training, Sudhir is willing to go to any extent to learn various skills and equip himself for new opportunities so his children can continue with their education and have a bright future.