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.

Persistence breathes fresh life

Visually Impaired Chotu Bharati, an 18 year old from Gorakhpur, UP in retrospect thinks the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) camp could have guided him better in pursuing his education and that would have helped him save the four years he lost doing nothing, being unaware.

Chotu had sight related issues from cataract since birth and in 2010while doing his 4th standard in school he lost his complete vision. His parents tried whatever possible treatment they could afford from around Gorakhpur and Lucknow till 2013 but they had to resign to the fact of his blindness soon. This also resulted in his school education coming to a standstill. But as a temporary relief to the family they met with a SSA camp representative in a Gorakhpur hospital and took the person’s guidance and joined the camp. He enrolled in an eight months long training and stayed in the SSA accommodation aspiring to make full use of the training program. He not only wanted to learn some skills but also wanted to learn about a life with blindness by socialising with fellow visually impaired individuals. The training wound up in 8 months and Chotu came back home after learning Braille. But before long he started thinking, now that he learned Braille what’s next? Whenever he enquired with the SSA authorities, he was assured assistance for pursuing his education in return. But nothing materialised and Chotu remained at home for the next four years believing there is nothing more left for him to do.

But somewhere a glimmer of hope was alive and he kept looking for solutions to come out of his circumstances. But the lack of awareness, access to information and poverty at home didn’t help his case. His father was a daily wager and the only breadwinner for a family of six. This left the family having to prioritise the majority’s problem over that of Chotu’s which was income, food, daily expenses etc. The family remained supportive but the necessities of existence forced them to leave Chotu to his plight. Chotu remained positive, kept going back to the SSA authorities, sought information from friends and other available sources like the radio, television etc. And his inquisitive mind did receive some comfort when his friend heard about Eyeway over the radio program ‘Hamari Vaani’ and informed him. It was the first time he heard of anything beyond Braille for the visually impaired and he couldn’t sit still. He gathered the number for Eyeway from his friend and immediately contacted Eyeway in July 2018. His visible problems were around education, employment and living life with blindness. He also shared that he wants to financially support his struggling parents. This was the first chance he got in four years to redeem his life and he was not going to let that go cheaply.

On comprehending his issue counselor found benefit in directing him back to education in order to complete his schooling. Also, the desire in Chotu’s voice to go back to school was evident. Age was also on his side to do schooling and cover for his lost years. Chotu was still confident of a day-scholar education over open schooling. To gain the right judgement counselor contacted the principal of Bharat Blind School, Delhi and discussed the issue. Over the discussion counselor gathered better knowledge and suggested to Chotu to join the Bharat Blind School where he can try being a day-scholar and if found difficult can shift to open schooling. In both the cases, he will be provided free accommodation and the opportunity to finish schooling in the few years ahead. This will also allow him to manage his life on his own. Chotu has agreed to the suggestion by Eyeway counselor and has enrolled himself in Bharat Blind School; New Delhi in September 2018.Eyeway could comprehend the context of Chotu’s problem and thus give him the right guidance and tie him up to the right place wherefrom we hope Chotu will make his dreams come true.

Why invest in a blind child?

Mahesh Kumar from Patna, Bihar is a fighter. He survived many perils without education, training and adequate income but still stands tall to claim back the lost decades at the age of 34, the many years of unawareness, ignorance, and rejection. Visual impairment that struck him with blindness at the age of 10 was not the biggest problem he faced, now looking back. Poverty, an inebriate father, education aborted at 10 years, social stigma etc. had greater impacts on his life. It was only his mother who cared for him and till she passed. His father not only rejected any interventions in Mahesh’s life out of social stigma and could only care less for him or his family, due to his addicted drinking problem.

The meagre income his mother earned from the menial jobs she did kept their heads above water. He had to stop his schooling after 3rd standard after he contracted eye flu leading to visual impairment. At that point the family sought treatment for his eyes from multiple sources. But their finances, limited knowledge and social background didn’t help them much, except Mahesh having to gradually resign to the reality of blindness. The end of schooling meant a dead-end to his normal childhood. He became confined to his house having nothing to do ignorant to the years passing by him. Only intervention in his life occurred when one of his relative informed his case to the Blind School in Patna and the representative from there visited his family. But there was no escape yet. His father forbade him any outside intervention or exposure in fear of potential disgrace. And in 2004, at his age of 20, his father helped him and his elder brother to set up a mobile accessories shop. This was more out necessity than out of achieving any clear direction, with their family reeling in poverty and Mahesh becoming a liability. He was expected to be independent and find a way of living for himself. But having no education, training or knowledge about blindness, what he could do was minimal. He worked with his brother in the shop helping him to do the packaging or counting of goods. And after few years of them running the shop his brother started to feel the exhaustion of supporting him and their relationship soured as a result. Gradually his elder took the shop over and kept him away. This further left Mahesh in a deep crisis and the future appeared bleak. His mother being the only supporting person in the family also passed during this period leaving him in a total helpless situation. And all he could do was idle away at home contemplating how he can save himself and his family. And he did brood over it for long.

But life was not over for Mahesh. He never knew his it was about to change when he got the Eyeway toll-free number from a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) representative in his village in 2018. Out of encouragement from this representative who is a teacher with the SSA camp, he contacted Eyeway in June 2018. His problems were spread among education, training and employment. After all the discrimination and negativity from his family, his desire to find an employment and become a bread-winner for his family was so inspiring. All he wanted was to generate a value for him through education or employment. But at 34 it was not going to be easy, also with zero physical independence. Eyeway counselor had to take a prudent call here. If it is education, there is always the possibility of open schooling to restart or to pursue from where it was left. But the age of the individual, financial situation, family circumstances are all vital before an advice is given because in India social and familial obligations can’t be easily overlooked. Counselor made the call of employment as the immediate solution for Mahesh which appeared a better choice at that point because his family’s biggest problem was income making his existence a liability. It was understood from his own words that neither he nor his family might have the patience to wait till he is educated again. Thus, counselor directed him to the Blind Relief Association (BRA), New Delhi multi-skill program where he can gain training, rehabilitation and technology skills needed for his independence and employment. Also, getting training for agricultural farming was suggested to him as a means for self-employment after gauging his circumstance of having no education or job-related training. But he chose the former and joined the BRA program in July 2018, considering the fact that he will earn multiple skills in one year.

Mahesh’s case is one of sheer ignorance, unawareness and social stigma. His education being cut-off as a young boy, prohibiting exposure to the world outside or rejecting any rehabilitation for him eventually didn’t help him or his family who took those decisions for him. And when he became an adult, the once over-protective family started disowning him and pressurizing him to be independent. Such cases are in plenty, especially in the rural India where many visually impaired individuals lose out on their all-important childhood to the stigmas, egos and complexes of ill-informed families and societies. A transformation in the mind-sets of people is vital to bring about any radical change to this. Individuals like Mahesh and their abilities are not to be squandered off but to be invested in and mainstreamed to the human capital of our country.

Life does not stop with blindness

Access to nutrition, education and employment is fundamental to subsistence and sustenance of a dignified life. This principle is same for all countries – developed, developing or under-developed – but a certain enemy called ‘inequality’ imbalances this equilibrium. A large percentage of women in India are nutrition deficit at pre-natal, neo-natal and post-natal stages of the pregnancy, when another large percentage protested and amended the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 in 2017. Such is the ‘inequality’ of our country and the issues resultant of it. Nutrition deficiency is leading to infants being born with congenital disorders affecting their normal growth.

Deepak Shriwas from Chhattisgarh is one such case, now 25 years old, but one who overcame the clutches of a miserable fate by sheer hard work, determination and the reception of timely intervention. He was born in those unfortunate circumstances suffered by a financially poor Indian woman, mothering a malnourished child with a weak functioning heart, hearing impairment and glaucoma inflicted blindness. For his family challenges were many – eight mouths to feed, meager finances of his farmer father, Deepak’s poor health and lack of awareness among parents to rear a visually impaired boy. His father being the only source of income in the family was incapable to meet the rising needs and their lack of awareness kept the family in the dark.

Unaware of the possibilities of living life with blindness, facilities or provisions, institutions or agencies available for rehabilitating the visually impaired people, the family persevered through the years cursing their stars and considering it all as their fate. The only progressive step the parents took was to put Deepak in the nearby mainstream village school. But there was no relief to be achieved in the school. Teachers discriminated and students alienated, leaving Deepak alone in the midst of a crowd. He was designated a separate spot to sit and not treated as part of the class. He had no access to study materials, notes or references, and no scribe to write his exams. There was no awareness, neither for him nor for the school. Only form of education for him was the classroom lectures. This lack of awareness of the school authorities also left them helpless to assist Deepak in any manner. Deepak on some compassionate grounds was promoted at the end of each academic year but didn’t gain anything in terms of learning. This continued till he completed his 9th standard. He couldn’t stand this discrimination anymore and decided not to continue as a liability any longer. He gave up on his education with a heavy heart, refusing to go to his village school anymore. But nobody except him and his mother suffered because neither his teachers nor his classmates had ever accepted him.

After dropping out of school in 2010, the next four years he stayed back at home not knowing what to do pursue next. He wanted to be educated and his mother wanted the same for him, but the question of ‘how’ curtailed them from thinking on it further. They had almost started thinking that it is better to forget than to cherish any unachievable dreams. But little did he know when he watched an episode of  Eyeway’s TV series Nazar Ya Nazariya’ for the first time in 2014 that it was a turning point towards a journey of hope, aspirations and success. He was particularly inspired by a line in the show ‘Life does not stop with blindness’. This line reverberated in him evoking positive emotions. He immediately contacted Score Foundation and shared his problems seeking solutions to many of them. And that effort didn’t go in vain. Eyeway counselor engaged him in conversation trying to understand his circumstances and how informed he was. Deepak seemed unaware and uninformed, for instance, he had never heard of special schools for the blind before.

Thus, counselor faced the challenge of informing him right from scratch on the provisions, rights, facilities, education, employment, institutions etc. available in India for the empowerment of visually impaired people. This totally opened up Deepak’s mind and all his dreams started to seem real once again. He confessed to the counselor that education was his primary need and wanted to pick up his education from where he’d left off. But as initial steps for rehabilitation and bringing his life to normalcy, Eyeway counselor suggested National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun to gain training for multiple skills including computer and vocational training. He joined NIVH and being his ambitious self, learned computer and braille during the same tenure. On his own initiative he also mastered the computer softwares JAVA and HTML. His desire to succeed in life had no bounds after Eyeway gave him the first opportunity to steer his life towards his goals. This drive put him on his heels to educate and train as best as he can in minimum time.  Success seemed never far again for Deepak and self-belief was reinstated in him.

In 2017, he was ready to restart his education. Since regular school was not a possibility, he joined the CBSE open schooling program. Here again he had to face challenges. There were naysayers everywhere who raised negative opinions on the decisions he took, citing his weaknesses.  He had to face this intense negativity when he chose science subjects to pursue his education. This negativity is spread through uninformed opinions due to the lack of information on the part of the general public. Such information is not all true since many steps are taken by the government to make science education inclusive, though there is much left to be done on this end. Here again he faced the lack of accessible study materials and had to tutor himself with the help of videos on YouTube. But he surmounted all this negativity with his determination and cleared the 10th CBSE board exams in 2018 with excellent scores in the science stream. This doubled his confidence and he sought to continue his studies. To be prepared for a career he also decided to gain training in stenography. Eyeway helped him enroll for a stenography course in National Association for the Blind, Faridabad and he starts the course in July 2018 alongside his education through CBSE open schooling.

This case for Eyeway is distinct in many ways. Deepak, his mother, father and five other siblings are indicative of a typical family in India for whom education, employment, nutrition, accessible health services, and information is elusive. These are people who are easily bracketed as BPL, rural, lower caste or disabled and promised to serve through welfare means. Individuals like Deepak prove that if given the right guidance and support no brackets are limiting for them. Deepak overcoming obstacles despite his hearing and visual impairment, weak heart condition and poverty is a revelation to many social scientists and policy makers and he is not the only one. This makes us think if ‘inequality’ is a consequence or a cause.

To go the extra mile

25 year old Bappi, a resident of Jharkhand lost his eyesight overnight at the age of 13 due to sudden retinal detachment. He underwent treatment at Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai with the hope to recover his sight. After several treatments, his vision was restored but it only lasted only for 10 days. And once again he became visually impaired. His doctors motivated him to take part in training workshops which paved way for Bappi in joining the National Institute for Visually Handicapped, Chennai and Mitra Jyothi, Bangalore where he learnt how to use braille and computers. As a visually impaired person, it was quite difficult for him to understand the processers as the software system was not supportive to his needs. Nevertheless, this did not stop Bappi from acquiring knowledge and with the help of a few experts, he went on to complete Java C++ course in Vishakhapatnam.

Since childhood, Bappi dreamt of pursuing MBA. He took admission in a mainstream college and was fortunate enough to find extra help and support from peers and teachers during and after classes. While searching for jobs alongside his studies, Bappi came to know about Eyeway and instantly got in touch with the Helpdesk to seek solutions. He first inquired about bank related issues. Eyeway got in touch with the concerned bank (State Bank of India) and helped him procure his passbook after a long struggle. He shared that Eyeway provided him relevant and useful information about job prospects and coaching institutions as well.

After successfully completing his MBA, Bappi moved to Delhi to prepare for UPSC. He is currently working as a counselor in SAKSHAM and is preparing for civil services as he aspires to become an IAS officer and serve the society in his fullest capacity. He thinks that nothing is impossible to achieve for the visually impaired, and if at all Eyeway is there to help.

Banking and accessibility: a far-fetched dream for visually impaired

As enshrined in the Constitution of India, the fundamental rights guarantee equal opportunities and facilities to every citizen of our country, irrespective of an individual’s background. As India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it is obliged to provide equal access and amenities to the visually impaired in all arenas. However, people with disability are experiencing humiliation and discrimination at various stages in their day to day lives.

Addressing the issue of accessibility in the banking sector, several visually impaired have shared traumatic incidents on denial of provisions of all facilities from the bank officials on the basis of their visual disability. This raises questions on the awareness and sensitivity of the employees working in the banking sector and also draws attention towards the lack of implementation of the RBI and IBA guidelines for people with special needs.

Disabling the Empowered

Two counsellors Darshana and Shirin who are working with the Eyeway Helpdesk in Mumbai faced severe discrimination while opening an account with the Bank of India in Mumbai. Both of them are visually impaired. As being a part of the Victoria Memorial School for Blind, it was mandatory for them to open a savings account with the Bank of India. Along with a sighted person from VMS, our counselors visited the branch to complete the formalities. Mrs. Bheede was appointed to guide Darshana and Shirin about the procedures. However, after learning that both of them are visually impaired, she immediately denied initiating an account because as per her knowledge ‘blind are not entitled to open an account in the bank.’

Both the counsellors tried to explain to her that a visually impaired person is eligible to open an account in any bank in India and should possess all the banking facilities like other sighted individuals as guided by ‘RBI’ guidelines. As an example, they even said that they have an account in HDFC and avail all banking facilities. But unfortunately Bheede got agitated as she assumed that the counsellors were trying to teach her rules and regulations and refused to understand their requirements. She was adamant about not opening their account.

After deliberating the issue with some other employee, our counsellors were assured that visually impaired can open an account but they won’t be able to avail services of having a cheque book and Net Banking facility. Darshana and Shirin were taken aback and tried to explain them that according to the RBI guidelines, the banks are supposed to offer all the facilities to the visually impaired. As stated in the RBI Circular DBOD. No. Leg BC. 91 /09.07.005/2007-08 dated June 4, 2008,

“the RBI mandated that banking facilities (including cheque book facility, operation of ATM, locker, net banking services etc.) cannot be denied to the visually challenged as they are legally competent to contract.”

The executive argued that the Bank of India has no obligation to follow ‘RBI’ rules because it has its own autonomous regulatory body. Counsellors were surprised with this argument and understood the ignorant behavior of public sectors organization for visually impaired. They requested them for the provision of accessing internet facilities as technological support makes it easier for a visually impaired to access internet and software like ‘talkback’ support them to read hard copies in photo format also. The official humiliated both by asking them to demonstrate how they access internet on smartphones.

After being subjected to such inappropriate behavior, the counsellors requested the officials to fill their form on behalf of them as they were unable to write in the hard copy. However, it was degrading to know that the employee refused to help them with an excuse of avoiding any consequences. The sighted person from the VMS helped them to complete the paper work. The Assistant General Manager was observing the incident and asked the counsellors to provide the circular of RBI and IBA through soft copies on their email id to discuss it with their senior members. Shirin immediately provided him a pen drive with the required documents.

Finally, Darshana and Shirin were reverted back to Mrs. Bheede for the next procedure. She accepted the documents but informed the counsellors that she was still unsure of providing internet access for online transactions and a cheque book. A few days later, the counsellors visited the bank to collect their debit cards and to initiate internet banking process. Bheede informed that they were allowed to avail all the facilities as directed by the higher authorities. While completing the remaining formalities, Bheede made a remark to one of her colleagues that “blind hai, pata nahi kaise karegi? Hame to order follow karna hai”

The bank was not willing to take any responsibility and was dismissive of the needs of our counsellors. While Darshana and Shirin are educated, well employed and independent, the public sector has proved to be rigid and primitive in viewing disability as a burden for the society and further humiliate and discriminate their clients to an extent where they feel disempowered not because of being blind but because of the mindset of the people towards them. If this is the condition of the educated in the society, then one can only imagine the plight of the illiterate and the humiliation they must have undergone within the banking sector.

EYEWAY’S INTERVENTION IN MAHARASHTRA

Eyeway has encountered many instances where the visually impaired have faced discrimination and problems of accessibility within the banking and financial services in Maharashtra. With the purpose to break the stereotypes and prejudices against the visually impaired, Eyeway has taken initiative to improve the behavioral practices of the officials working in the bank and to sensitize them about the RBI and IBA guidelines.

Unaware or Reluctant?

Balu Shinde is a government employee residing in Pune. He has raised an issue on behalf of his female colleague who was denied locker facility in the Bank of Maharashtra on the grounds of her visual disability. Balu and his colleague are totally blind. As per the RBI guidelines, his coworker wanted to avail the locker facility and requested the bank official to help her with the same. However, the official denied providing the services as the bank was not willing to take onus if any malpractices occur in the future.

Balu immediately contacted Eyeway to seek solution for his colleague. Our counsellors made him aware of the guiding principles implemented by RBI and IBA in the banking sector and made him understand that visually impaired are entitled to be provided with locker facilities either in the presence of a bank representative or any family member to help him out for handling valuables from the locker. When Balu and his colleague presented the IBA circular to the bank, the official firmly denied accepting it as he was not aware of such guidelines for persons with disability. He demanded for the regulations provided by the RBI.

Eyeway counsellors provided the soft copy of the RBI and IBA circulars to avail the locker facility easily. But still the bank official wanted to discuss it with the higher authorities and coordinate accordingly. Till date, Balu’s colleague is waiting for a response from the bank. It is unfortunate to comprehend that many employees are unaware of the circulars for persons with visual impairment and are not willing to take responsibilities of their duties.

Winning the right way

A 40-year-old central government employee, Sanjay Uike serves the Indian Navy. He lives in Lonavala near Pune. Sanjay requested the State Bank of India to provide him with a debit card for his personal use. However, the bank denied accepting his request as he was 100% visually impaired.

With disbelief and rage, Sanjay contacted Eyeway Helpdesk to seek help in procuring the debit card and his to regain his self-esteem. Our counsellors immediately provided him all the documents containing the RBI and IBA rules and regulations and suggested him to present these files to the bank official.

After a span of 10 days, Sanjay successfully procured his Debit Card with the help of the guidelines.

Banking Culture of Dishonesty

Vijay Salunke is totally blind since birth. He has completed his post-graduation and is self-employed since the past two years. He has requested various banks in Maharashtra for loans, however every bank has refused to deliver assistance as he is blind. Finally, Vijay was approached by Axis Bank in Pune and they were willing to offer him a credit card. On the other hand, the bank did not explain him the terms and conditions and handed over a hard copy which Vijay was unable to read. Without knowing much, he opted for a credit card. After few months, he realized that his account has been seized due to excess credit limit.

He only had one account through which he could fulfil his financial requirement. Devastated, he requested the bank authorities to exceed the time limit for repayment of the credit amount. He has been trying to resolve the issue for more than six months, and as a last resort came to Eyeway to find solutions. The counsellors clearly made him understand that every bank is obligated to follow their own policy. Further, the counsellors forwarded his query to an RBI official in Maharashtra. He guided Vijay about the procedures to resolve the problem and personally had a telephonic conversation with the Bank for a smooth functioning of the procedures.

At last, Vijay was able to make the repayment of his loan amount in one occasion. However, this traumatizing experience that he faced with the bank is something he would never forget. For his expansion of his establishment, Vijay never looked again towards any bank. Rather, he asked his friends for providing financial assistance as a loan to set up his business and started his venture. He also shared his experience about NHFDC organization which was supposed to be set up in order to fulfill the financial needs of handicapped aspirants for self-employment. However, they failed to implement their vision as acquiring loans from NHFDC was an extensive procedure and several visually impaired were unsuccessful in living up to their criteria.

Is banking sector really approachable?

Babasaheb Raut, is a 52-year-old government employee. He is an awardee of ‘National award for person with disability’. Babasaheb applied for issuing a credit card in various banks in Pune including the main branch of State Bank of India. However, with the trajectory that the banking sector follows, every bank rejected to provide a credit card because of his blindness and as he could not sign any documents. The officials were not accepting thumb impression in place of his signature. The Eyeway counsellors provided him with both the circulars in order to resolve his issue.

Raut believes that it was disturbing to have gone through such facets of discrimination even after being well-employed and being honored with a National Award. There should be proper course of action through RBI to stop discrimination against the visually impaired.

Despite having a legislative and executive push for inclusivity in all sectors, the adoption of accessibility of features and technologies in Indian banks today are rare to have occurred. Banks are not implementing the RBI and IBA guidelines and are inefficient to fulfill their legal requirements. It is important for them to understand that disability is not an obligation, but in turn would benefit the banks to ensure growth and development and provide a hassle-free environment to all its customers!

Opening the gates of consciousness

Three brothers Shakir Malik, Shadab and Adil residing in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh are completely blind since birth. Born in an economically weaker family, their father works as a daily laborer and their mother does embroidery work on garments. As the parents had zilch knowledge about living life with blindness, all the siblings had a difficult time growing up. Shakir being the eldest suffered the most.

25-year-old Shakir missed out on early years of education due to ignorance and lack of awareness. Being the eldest among all the brothers, his grandfather was over-protective of Shakir and was adamant to not let him out of sight, almost restricting him to the house. He refused to even send Shakir to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) camp organized in his village. SSA camp is a government initiative which aims to provide inclusive education and conduct rehabilitation training and braille workshops for the visually impaired.  As a result, Shakir remained uneducated and sat idle at home for years together.

However, his younger brothers Shadab and Adil were fortunate enough to avail education. Due to the sudden demise of their grandfather, Shadab and Adil got a chance to join a government camp in Bulandshahr. In this camp, both the brothers got an opportunity to pursue academics and simultaneously acquire mobility training as well as know-how of assistive technology. Currently, Shadab who is 17 years old and Adil who is 15 are both studying in a mainstream school.

While Shadab and Adil are independent and educated, they slowly realized that their elder brother was incapable of performing his duties alone and had not acquired any skills to earn his living. Desperate to find help for his elder brother, Adil contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk. He got hold of Eyeway’s toll-free number from Just Dial. Shakir was not confident enough to reach out to our Helpdesk on his own. Hence, our counselor interacted with Adil to understand his challenges and requirements. On identifying Shakir’s needs, the Eyeway counselor suggested him to enroll in Blind Relief Association, New Delhi for ‘Multi-Skill Training’. It is a one-year programme designed for visually impaired between the age of 18 to 35 who have either missed out on formal education or are wanting to acquire a variety of skills to gain some employment or become self-employed. Our counselor further connected them with the concerned authorities for additional information on the programme.

On 02nd July 2018, Shakir started his training in Blind Relief Association as suggested by Eyeway. Unfortunately, due to his complete absence of etiquette and personal hygiene, he was prevented from attending the training. Eyeway understood that it would be unfair for the other candidates and would hamper their learning. As an organization, it is impossible to take full ownership of Shakir’s conduct. It is the responsibility of the family to teach him the decorum of the outside world and take note of his hygiene. Proper grooming and appearance are not only important for a good health but lack of these may also lead to poor image among your colleagues and may interfere with your chances of availing real opportunities.  Our counselors conveyed the same to Adil and encouraged him to help his brother in improving his basic etiquettes and persuaded Shakir to again join the training in the next batch.

Between dreams and despair

23-year-old Suchitra (name-changed) hails from Thrissur district in Kerala. She belongs to an upper middle-class family. Her Father is working in a private company and mother is a homemaker. Suchitra was born sighted. She started her schooling in Thiruvananthapuram.

While studying, Suchitra dreamt of becoming an engineer. With hope and conviction to accomplish her dreams, she joined an engineering college in Thiruvananthapuram itself. She successfully completed three years of her course. However, in the fourth year Suchitra was diagnosed with Optic neuritis and multiple sclerosis. She started to face acute symptoms. This also affected her brain and she began to experience memory loss.

All these changes terrified her. Her education was at halt. She discontinued her studies to undergo medical treatment. Due to her eye condition, Suchitra couldn’t re-start her engineering career. However, this did not deter her from acquiring knowledge. In 2017, she went on to pursue Post Graduate Diploma in Management Studies with enormous efforts. She has completed her examinations and is waiting for her final result.

Suchitra was still seeking medical resolution and got in touch with Little Flower Hospital, Angamaly for the same. She was unaware and not well-versed about how to lead a life as someone one with visual impairment. The doctors connected her with the Eyeway Helpdesk for additional support and further understanding of coping with blindness. In quest of information, Suchitra visited the center in June 2018. To begin with, our counselor tried to understand her problems and challenges to help her with suitable alternatives. After realizing her current position, our counsellor shared some inspirational stories including his own struggles and achievements to encourage Suchitra and her parents. They were moved by listening to such motivational experiences and accomplishments of visually impaired people in India.

Further, on learning that Suchitra was searching for job opportunities and immediately wanted to work, Eyeway suggested her to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in order to avail better opportunities. As she was interested to study English, the counsellor advised her to skim through the course structure of mainstream institutions to gain clarity in choosing her area of interest. However, the idea of sending Suchitra to a mainstream college didn’t go down well with her parents as they were over-protective towards her. They were willing to opt for parallel college instead.

Our counselor also recommended her to apply for government jobs and explained her the procedures for acquiring disability certificate for the same. She was persuaded to prepare for Lower Division Clerk and Public Service Commission examinations as well.

On follow up, our counsellor learnt that Suchitra was inspired and motivated to work on the suggestions provided by Eyeway Helpdesk.

In pursuit of learning

Siddhant Arora, a 22-year-old boy is a resident of Delhi. He has low vision and is 75% blind since birth. His father runs his own garment shop and his mother is a homemaker. Born into a financially unstable family, Siddhant managed to complete his education till 12th standard from a mainstream school in Ghaziabad. He further went on to pursue Bachelors in Management Studies from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies in New Delhi. While studying in mainstream institutions, Siddhant faced several challenges due to lack of proper guidance and awareness. He was not familiar with the emerging technologies for the visually impaired such as screen reader and facilities of a scribe. He even used to sit extremely close to the blackboard for reading the class notes efficiently.

With an urge to overcome these challenges, Siddhant was keen on undertaking computer training as he thought these skills were important to support his education and it would also help him to increase his competence in various tasks. While he was figuring out the next step after graduation, he got to know about Eyeway from a close friend. In 2017, Siddhant contacted Eyeway’s Helpdesk to seek information about the computer training. The counsellors suggested various training programmes and connected him to Samarthanam Trust and National Association for Blind in R.K Puram for further assistance. After few days, he visited Score Foundation and requested the counsellors to teach him computers. Eyeway demonstrated the functions to him with the help of a screen reader and provided him with the contact details of professional trainers to acquire better skills.

On follow up, our counsellors were informed that he has successfully completed his computer training through an online course suggested by Eyeway and his efficiency skills has improved. Currently, Siddhant is pursuing his MBA from the prestigious Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi and simultaneously supporting his father in his business. He aspires to work in the Corporate sector for few years after which he wants to start his own venture. Siddhant also writes inspirational quotes in Quora in the capacity of a Life Advisor and resolves issues related to relationship management. He believes that his interaction with the Helpdesk has been wonderful and Eyeway’s intervention has helped him to take a step closer towards his dreams!

To go beyond the boundary

35-year-old Naval Kishore was born with normal vision into an economically weaker household in Najafgarh, New Delhi. His father is a taxi-driver and his mother is a homemaker. He has a younger brother who is married. At the age of two, Naval lost his eyesight completely due to high fever. His family visited several hospitals in pursuit of seeking medical help to restore his vision. However, the doctors couldn’t provide him with any concrete solutions. As recommended by some colleagues, Naval accompanied his father to All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi in search of assistance. The doctors suggested him to undergo a surgery but the operation turned out to be unsuccessful.

With the help of the doctors, Naval procured a 100% disability certificate. He was also apprised about the services provided by National Association for Blind (NAB) for future requirements. Naval went on to complete his schooling till 12th standard from NAB. And after that he also earned his Bachelor’s degree from Delhi University. After completing his graduation, Naval wanted a recruitment in the government sector. He appeared for Regional Rural Banks (RRB) examinations in 2017, cleared the preliminary level but was unable to clear the mains.

He contacted the Helpdesk to procure more information about his career prospects in the government sector. He was looking for a job in railways under the ‘Group D’ category and was open to work in the banking sector as well. As Naval was well-versed with computer skills, our counselors encouraged him to look beyond government jobs and explore different arenas. Eyeway counselors keep Naval up to date with job opportunities from the government as well as private sector via our WhatsApp group. Our counselors even demonstrated the use of a smartphone to make him affluent with assistive technology.

Several visually impaired individuals like Naval tend to lean towards government jobs as they are under an impression that it would provide them with financial security and a stable income. Belonging to a low-income family, certain benefits such as pension, medical aids act as a bonus for choosing government organizations over the private sector, irrespective of the difference in the pay scale. Such pre-conceived notions restrict individual’s opportunities to grow and explore alternatives of greater value.

Currently, Naval is taking coaching from K.D campus in Munirka to appear for government recruitment. He frequently visits our Helpdesk and is dependent on Eyeway’s support and resource base. He constantly seeks guidance and encouragement from our counselors for his future endeavors.

Hurdles teaching progression

Living with blindness is not easy but it’s even more hard-hitting if your entire family is suffering from the same medical condition. Juzer and Taha are brothers hailing from Karjat, Maharashtra. Their father owns a hardware shop and their mother is a homemaker. All of them are visually impaired and suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa since birth. In this medical condition, the vision of a person deteriorates gradually over time.

Juzer is 22-years- old and has completed his schooling from a mainstream institution. While studying in Saifee High School, Juzer faced several challenges due to his weak eye condition. He could not read the entire text from the blackboard and hence his class notes remained incomplete. His mother has always been a pillar of support to him and his younger brother. Although she was visually impaired, she made sure to collect all the notes from Juzer’s classmates. She even used to tell him to recite his notes aloud so that she could record them and use it for further corrections.

In 2017, Juzer completed his graduation in liberal arts. However, he was unsure of what to do ahead and was skeptical about finding a job because of his eye condition. He wanted to acquire some more skills with a hope to find employment. His family got to know about Eyeway through a promotion they overheard on All India Radio and also from their friend circle. Juzer personally visited the Eyeway center and explained his journey so far and his current issues. Our Helpdesk counsellors motivated him to acquire additional skills such as computer knowledge and personality development as nowadays these are necessary for every government jobs. The counsellors suggested him to join MSCIT and Typing course in Victoria Memorial School for Blind and further encouraged him to join the competitive exam course which was being offered at the same institution.

Juzer simultaneously joined all the courses. However, after a couple of months he again contacted Eyeway as he was having an issue in finding a reader for his final typing exam. It was essential for him because the reader is supposed to read out a given paragraph which the candidate should type in a stipulated amount of time to qualify for the typing exam. Before contacting our Helpdesk, he approached several other organizations but he did not get any response. Eyeway arranged a volunteer within two days and connected him to his assigned reader for submission of relevant documents. Finally, Juzer can appear for the examinations and is currently preparing for the same.

While Juzer’s issue was successfully resolved, his younger brother Taha had a major setback with his school management. In 2015, Taha took admission in Geeta English and Semi English Medium School in Karjat. Initially, the school management was reluctant to offer admission and insisted his parents to put Taha in a special school for the blind However, the parents managed to convince the school authorities that blind children can avail education from mainstream schools.

As Taha was the only visually impaired student in the entire school, the management was not aware of the facilities provided to such students. Also, due to frequent change of staff members the parents found it cumbersome to visit every teacher and explain their child’s situation repeatedly. At first, Taha had enough vision to write his own paper with extra light conditions. However, in the middle of 2017, his eye condition deteriorated and he was unable to complete his papers within the prescribed time limit. When his parents tried to explain this situation to the Principal, he made an insensitive remark and told the parents that as Taha didn’t face any issue while playing, he was sure that he wasn’t facing any problem in completing the paper. The Principal said Taha was only making up an excuse because he didn’t know the answers.

His parents were taken aback. Not knowing what to do, they contacted Eyeway to seek help and assistance. After analyzing the issue, our counsellors provided them with the ‘MSJE circular on Universal Examination guidelines for candidates with Disabilities’. They explained his parents, that as per the guidelines Taha can take help of a scribe to write his papers and he is also entitled to get 20 minutes extra for the duration of an hour while writing the examinations. After submitting the guidelines to the school, the management has accepted to provide all facilities to Taha and there is no need of visiting the school frequently as well.

Juzer and Taha are more accepting of the advice and support of our counsellors than of their own family members. Eyeway is glad to know that the parents and the clients have maintained their trust and credibility with our intervention for providing information and guidance in all aspects.