Amit Patel knew compensating facilities are available for blind students like to give him an equal footing with other students. His university allowed a scribe to write his MBA exams, but not extra time to take the exam. Then he sought the help of Eyeway. Eyeway helped Amit to acquire a copy of the rules for MBA courses, which was the basis of Amit’s request for compensating facilities. In addition to the information given to Amit, Eyeway also connected him with the Office of the Chief Commissioner of People with Disabilities (CCPD) and his university for a discussion about the matter. After his university was enlightened, Amit was granted his request both for a scribe and extra time in his examinations.
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.
Gautom Baruah of Guwahati, Assam, is an enterprising young man despite his blindness. Gautom runs his own shop selling cellphone connections, recharge coupons, and other basic telecom gadgets. He had always wanted to do easy recharging independently for his clients, not relying on other people for an otherwise easy task. Gautom heard about the talking software for cell phones which he needed on the Eyeway Radio Show. Today Gautom tops up his clients’ cellphones independently, causing amazement at how a blind person can be a regular entrepreneur and contribute to the normal workings of society.
Alpana Dubey had always been optimistic about life and had strong resolve to face challenges in reaching her ambitions. When Alpana lost her eyesight as the result of a complication of Menengitic Hydrocephalus, her strength of character and the support of family and friends meant it did not disrupt her optimism to reach her dreams. Eyeway gives her a rich knowledge resource and the motivation to lead a full life. Eyeway counselled Alpana when her usual confidence waned as she chose her course of study. Today, as Alpana is confidently pursuing commerce, she has also been connected by Eyeway to an e-group of blind people who are in the same profession as her.
S.P. Singh was a young family man, earning a decent living as a teacher until he started to lose his sight because of a severe retinal problem. Gradually becoming blind was the lowest point of his life. Then one day he heard an inspiring radio show on living with blindness, Eyeway – Ye Hai Roshni Ka Karwan, and suddenly his perspective on blindness started to shift. After that he called the Eyeway Helpdesk for more information to help him adjust to his vision impairment. Recently, he has learned to use talking computer software for blind people, which he finds useful in his teaching and pursuing higher studies. Because of this information and the constant motivation, S.P. Singh considers Eyeway an important lifeline.
Avdhesh Kumar Kaushal has 6/36 vision. He appreciates Eyeway for guiding him as he continues to adjust to his eye condition, with the myriad of information and advice he has recieved. When he started to lose his eyesight, he feared that he would also lose his teaching job in a central government school. Eyeway gave Avdhesh confidence by telling him about the job security to blind people as stated in the People with Disabilities (PWD) Act, and specific concessions and other policies. He also found valuable support through connections with other blind teachers in his school and other schools in other parts of India.
Harshit Agarwal of Jabalpur, MP, has low vision due to Ocular Albinism. He asked his university for extra time to write his 3rd year BCom examination by himself. However, the university did not allow him extra time, apparently because there is no central circular issued to universities to implement such provisions for visually impaired students. Harshit referred his problem to the Eyeway Helpdesk, and right away we connected him to an NGO in Bhopal. The NGO in turn contacted the Chancellor of the university. Finally, the College allowed Harshit to have extra time in his exams.
It’s encouraging to see how individual efforts armed with right knowledge can help bring a wider change.
In April 2013 Mamta Chandiramani emailed the Eyeway Helpdesk looking for support to find a suitable writer for an exam she was taking five days later. She works with a branch of State Bank of India (SBI) in Mumbai and was sitting the internal promotional exams.
Being blind, Mamta needed a writer to take her exam, which SBI asked her to arrange herself. Furthermore SBI also prescribed the criteria for selecting a writer, stating the person could not be a graduate and also should not have scored more than 60% marks in their last exam. The person also needed to prove he/she meets the eligibility conditions by submitting copies of documents at the time of the examination.
Finding a scribe has always been difficult for blind/low-vision candidates, they have to find someone who can read/write their subjects, meet the criteria, and is available and willing to help.
From Mamta’s email it was clear that SBI is not aware of the new uniform examination guidelines for people with blindness/low-vision pronounced by the Government of India on 26 February 2013. The new guidelines mandated authorities across India to bring a paradigm shift in how examinations are conducted for people with blindness/low-vision and other disabilities. The new guidelines state that the focus should be on competency of the writer rather than laying down any eligibility conditions. This helps ensure a level playing field for visually impaired examinees, rather than complicating matters.
We apprised Mamta of the new rules and suggested she approach her employer to revise their rules accordingly.
She approached her branch head with the new information. He immediately forwarded the request internally to the concerned HR officials. Almost in a day’s time, Mamta got a call and written confirmation that SBI functionaries in her region had changed the promotional examination rules. She was allowed to take along anyone as a writer irrespective of age, education, marks scored etc, and SBI would appropriately invigilate.
Though the change didn’t help the few other visually impaired people in SBI across India who took this promotional exam this time around, it was observed that SBI immediately changed the writer selection criteria on their website for the officer recruitment exams held across India on 28 April 2013.
Pratyush Kaushal, an 18 year old student from Delhi started experiencing loss of vision when he was in class 11. He approached Score Foundation before the CBSE Class 12 examinations in 2016 for counselling and advice. His concern pertained to a rule according to which the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) does not allow a scribe from the same stream as the student taking the exam.
We helped Pratyush’s family connect and engage with the office of the Chief Commissioner for persons with Disabilities (CCPD). CCPD encouraged the CBSE to accommodate his concern. The CBSE complied and he was eventually allowed to have a scribe from his stream. This is very beneficial as terminologies, figures, symbols, and diagrams are better understood by a scribe who is familiar with the subjects. Pratyush prepared rigorously and went on to score a remarkable 95 per cent in the class 12 examinations.
This determined young man wants to do a B.Tech in Computer Science Engineering. His father Mr Ranjit Kumar, expressed concern that most engineering colleges in Delhi do not have proper infrastructural or library facilities for students with visual impairment. Despite these challenges facing his college education experience, Pratyush shares with us an optimistic message; “In life, a thousand people might tell you that you cannot do something. But it is very important to have self-belief. Facing challenges will make you a stronger person than most.”
Getting our number from Just Dial, Sucharu Gupta called us in March, 2013. She is 32 years old and has a B.Tech in Electronics and Communication, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Embedded Systems. She has also worked with a software development firm.
A loving mother and wife, Sucharu had quit her job after conceiving her first baby and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2005. She called the Eyeway Helpdesk when, while juggling marriage, a child, her own intellectual and professional needs and a degenerative eye-condition, she was not satisfied with her quality of life. She thought living a fuller life with vision impairment was a task she could handle, with some direction and information.
As the Helpdesk engaged with Sucharu, we glimpsed a dynamic woman who was trying to curb the psychological effects of a degenerative retinal disorder, and facing broader mobility and orientation issues as well as a need to productively use her time.
Within a few calls Sucharu voiced many diverse and basic doubts and queries. Issues of low-vision consultancy, functional vision, recognition of RP related characteristics, rehabilitation to use computers and tablets with the help of assistive devices, and how to get a disability certificate. Since the Helpdesk deals with such questions routinely, we realized what Sucharu was looking for was information. She was not relying on anybody for help; she wanted information to be able to help herself. With the onset of her vision deterioration, she wanted to look past her impairment and empower herself to go about her duties and interests without any emotional, physical and intellectual barriers.
We quickly realized that Sucharu’s immediate need was to make productive use of her time.
The Helpdesk connected Sucharu with individuals who are living with the same eye-condition, she was provided information about computers and other basic IT courses at Saksham Daksh. We also told her about different online web forums, talking book and audio book facilities, and screen readers and their functions. Sucharu had reservations about using a cane. She did not want her family or anybody else to brand her as ‘Vision Impaired’.
We followed up with her after she had joined a computer course at Saksham Daksh. She now carries a cane and feels that it is symbolic of the fact that she is low-vision and can walk on her own. As he grows up, she also wants her son to know that even though his mother is low-vision, that does not change or take away from who she is. They live, they celebrate, and individually Sucharu is as strong and courageous a woman and a mother as can be.
Khalid Hammed Bhat is a 23 year old young man from Jammu & Kashmir. Khalid is visually impaired due to the degenerative condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, which his brother and sister also share.
Khalid first heard our radio show, Eyeway Yeh Hai Roshni Ka Karawan, and called the Helpdesk in April 2013. When he contacted us, Khalid was struggling with the imbalance of issues he was trying to juggle; inaccessibility of education, prejudice and ignorance preventing acceptance in society and a lack of self-belief. As a graduate, he was resigned to applying for clerk level jobs which he knew would not allow him to show his full potential.
The Eyeway Helpdesk counselors helped Khalid prioritise his needs and work through his emotions. He knew that he wanted to learn new skills and broaden his education, but didn’t know who to approach for help. He also wanted to work towards a career.
We suggested he take up some training in using screen readers with computers for reading and writing, and that he also work on his mobility and practice his English language skills. We put him in touch with the Mitra Jyothi organistion.
Khalid travelled to Bangalore and took up the training opportunity.
A few weeks later, we called Khalid to seek an update. He is learning computer basics and Spoken English, which will be useful for future work. He mentioned that he gets an hour everyday to talk, the rest of the time he is at the campus, learning and taking his lessons. He mentioned he had even met one of our former colleagues here at Project Eyeway who has moved south, Pranay had counseled Khalid and had suggested that Khalid try Mitra Jyothi.
We were most pleased to hear Khalid talk about what he was doing, not about what he couldn’t.