Filled with gratitude and renewed aspiration

Twenty-three-year-old Saurabh Raj is visually impaired and hails from Motihari, Bihar. He has never let disability come in his way, securing accolades for his performance in academics, sports and extracurricular activities. He is passionate about advocating for a cleaner and greener environment.
To pursue his interest, he enrolled for a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering (Power System Engineering) at Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya, Bhopal. But his family’s weak economic status, especially after his father suffered a paralytic attack a few years ago, came in the way of his ambitions.

He was unable to pay the University fee of INR 1,20,000. Despite starting fundraising campaigns online, Saurabh was unable to meet his goal. But he refused to give up. When he learnt about Eyeway, he sent an email seeking help.

Saurabh shared that he would have to drop out of the course if he failed to pay the fee before the first semester. The Eyeway team acted quickly, posting a brief note stating Saurabh’s challenge and requirement to our network of supporters.

We were heartened to see an overwhelming response from people within twenty-four hours. Many of them offered to contribute. A generous donor came forth to cover Saurabh’s entire fee, a gesture that left the young boy ecstatic.

With this glitch fixed, Saurabh can focus on his dream. He is grateful to our team and in his own words, “Eyeway has given him a chance for a better life.”

The journey from hopelessness to helpfulness

Thirty-one-year-old Robert D’Souza is a resident of Mumbai, Maharashtra. At the tender age of three, he lost his father, following which he and his mother became dependent on the extended family. The hope that kept them going was one day Robert will grow up and be able to provide, just like his father.

But when he was in Class 9, he started experiencing vision loss. Robert was diagnosed with an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes gradual loss of sight. Shattered with this discovery, the mother-son duo chased all kinds of doctors, only to find out that the eye condition was irreversible. He somehow managed to complete Class X and then dropped out.

During all the medical shopping, no one guided the family about rehabilitation or possibilities of living life with blindness. Worried about their financial state, he took up odd jobs like, delivering tiffin, working as a bouncer in a club and so on. Nothing that was permanent though.

Recently, he watched a video on YouTube which led him to call the Eyeway Helpdesk in Maharashtra. On seeking employment options, the counselor informed Robert about the necessary skills to work as a visually impaired person. This would include mobility skills to navigate physical spaces independently, as well as reading and writing skills using a computer.

He was then guided to join computer classes at The Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, where he could learn to use screen reading software. When he visited the center, the counselor also gave him practical tips on mobility and encouraged to practice on his own.

Once he started the course, interacting with other visually impaired folk, Robert realized that totally blind people faced bigger challenges than him. With his remaining eye sight, he was able to guide some of his class fellows during the training and while traveling. This immediately boosted his confidence and led to a complete transformation in his mindset. From ‘I cannot do anything’, he went on to realize, ‘I can help others with something’.

Robert was advised to pursue a job opening of a customer care executive with Sarthak Trust. His Class X certification made him eligible for the vacancy. However, the counselor encouraged him to complete his education simultaneously via Open Schooling, in order to find better jobs in the future.

Despite wasting prime years of his youth, he can start afresh with the new acquired skills. Eyeway helped him see the importance of self-belief and exploring solutions.

 

Opening the door to success

Determination coupled with hard work helps one realise their aspirations. But without proper guidance, the road to success can be bumpy and tedious.

Twenty-four-year-old Omkar Pawaskar’s academic journey started late, at the age of thirteen. Born with total blindness, his family didn’t know if education was an option. Luckily, they were financially well placed and the mother took it upon herself to home school Omkar.

A visit from the District Collector led to formal admission into Class 7 in a government school. Omkar also pursued lessons in music simultaneously. After finishing Class 12, the family moved to Goa where he graduated with a degree in Music. At present, he is preparing to appear for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam.

Omkar had a chance encounter with Eyeway when he was seeking help against fighting discrimination from a bank, that denied opening a savings account or issuing an ATM card, on grounds of his blindness. While Eyeway helped resolve that issue, in the course of conversations, our Helpdesk counselor learnt that Omkar was dependent on his family in more ways than one.

Understanding his ambition and ability to succeed, the counselor nudged him to undergo rehabilitation training, which would enable him to not only navigate independently but also open up opportunities of economic independence.

He was put in touch with a tutor to learn mobility skills. Omkar also expressed a desire to learn a foreign language, for which he was recommended a French language trainer.

The counselor also advised Omkar to put his musical talent to practical use by teaching other students. He jumped up at the idea which never struck him earlier. This would help him earn some pocket money while staying in practice himself. It would also boost his confidence.

The adage, ‘better late than never’ rings true in the case of Omkar, as also in the case of several visually impaired people who remain ignorant of options and possibilities. The Eyeway intervention often becomes a precursor to an independent and dignified life for them.

Making it possible

Nineteen-year-old Davuluri Chakradhar Chowdary hails from West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. Being a person with vision impairment, he studied in a special school for the blind. His family is supportive and understanding towards his condition. This attitude helped Davuluri pursue his academic goals and aspirations. Currently, he is in the third year of graduation, following which he wants to become a teacher.

Studying in a mainstream college, Davulury often found it hard to access the study material in printed format. When he shared this problem with his friends, he was redirected to the Eyeway Helpdesk for assistance. He asked the Eyeway counselor if he can get audio books for his syllabus which will make it easier to study independently. The counselor contacted a few organizations and individuals regarding this query, and shared two resources that would be useful.

Davuluri was advised to contact LV Prasad Eye Institute for converting study material into audios and also visit the online digital library, Sugamya Pustakalaya for additional texts in accessible format. Thanks to this intervention, Davuluri is able to study seamlessly. He is also preparing for a special B.Ed training which will further his employment ambitions.

The counselor also added him to the Eyeway WhatsApp messaging list which will keep him up to date with information on jobs, government schemes, training programs, NGO contacts and other education, employment, assistive technology and independent living related news.

Timely guidance and adequate knowledge of alternate ways of carrying out daily activities despite blindness encourage people like Davuluri not to compromise on their dreams. He is now confident of gaining mainstream employment.

Impossible is Nothing

Thirty-four-year-old Deepak Arora belongs to a middle-class family in Faridabad, Haryana. He had a comfortable life growing up, studied in a mainstream school and later secured an MBA in Finance.

All was going well, until he started losing vision two years ago. Deepak went to a lot of eye doctors after which he was diagnosed with a degenerating eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa. He began to face issues performing his job as an Assistant Manager in a BPO.

He sought support from the Eyeway Helpdesk, on how he could continue working, what would be a better job role given his blindness, possibilities of normal living and so on.

The Helpdesk counselor not only addressed his problems but also worked on building his confidence which was shattered after late blindness. He was recommended to watch Eyeway’s inspiring TV series called, Nazar Ya Nazariya to gain insights on how visually impaired people can lead happy and successful lives.
As for rehabilitation, Deepak was advised to take computer training using screen reading software from Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged, and mobility training from the National Association for the Blind.

Looking for secure employment options, Deepak wanted to prepare for competitive exams which would make him eligible for government jobs. Eyeway put him in touch with Deepstambh Foundation that offers free coaching online to visually impaired aspirants. He was also apprised of the online digital library, Bookshare, where he could easily find books and study material in an accessible format.

Deepak is now in the process of rebuilding his life using the various resources and information shared by the Eyeway counselor. Feeling confident once again, he is willing to take the necessary steps towards a better future.

Broadening Horizons

Nineteen-year-old Pradip Kumar from Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, lost his eye sight at the age of three. He was enrolled in a special institution in Delhi, where he studied till Class V. But for some reason, he returned to his hometown, where he was admitted in a mainstream school. A couple of years later, his father passed away and the sudden demise crippled their household financially. Pradip had to drop out of school midway in Class VIII.

Over the years, he became increasingly dependent on his mother and siblings, and confined to the four walls of his home. Already having compromised the desire to study, he was keen to gain some form of employment to help his family and reduce his own burden on them.

He assumed that blind people could only take up menial jobs, until he spoke to the Eyeway team. Our helpdesk counselor apprised him of employment opportunities in the government and private sector, skilling and rehabilitation centers, assistive technology and above all the myriad possibilities to lead an independent life.

He was encouraged to complete his education to open up more avenues. Learning about the application process of National Institute of Open Learning (NIOS), he enrolled for Class X. He has also signed up to pursue mobility and computer training simultaneously.

To aid his education and daily needs, the counselor also helped Pradip avail his rightful disability pension. There are thousands of visually impaired people like Pradip who settle for very little, unaware of the heights they can scale despite blindness. In clearing their misconceptions and citing options, Eyeway directs them towards a brighter future.

Every problem has a solution

Where there’s a will there’s a way. Impossible is nothing. No, you are not reading clichés or advertisements here. These are statements of truth for millions of persons with vision impairment, who thought they lost their chance of education.

Often blind children and their families are ignorant about the possibility of getting formal education due to vision impairment. There are also people who drop out midway because of losing sight at a later stage in life.

For all these cases, there is hope in the form of National Institute of Open Schooling or NIOS. The Eyeway Helpdesk which disseminates information on living life with blindness, has guided many blind people across India to resume education and make a better, independent living. Here are some such accounts.

26-year-old Shikha from Sonipat, Haryana born to an educated family, dropped out of school after Class 2 due to poor vision. As she grew up, she felt ‘lesser’ than her peers, friends and cousins. Eyeway informed her about NIOS and at 25, she enrolled for Class X and secured a high percentage. She went on to pursue Class 12 alongside preparing for competitive exams.

19-year-old Pradeep Kumar from Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh lost his vision when he was three. He studied till Class V in an institution in Delhi after which he returned home to take admission in a mainstream school. Unfortunately, he couldn’t continue school due to a financial crunch following his father’s demise. After a gap of few years, he enrolled in Class X through NIOS on Eyeway’s suggestion and is studying with the aid of audio books.

21-year-old Manmohan Singh from Gonda, Uttar Pradesh could not complete Class X from mainstream school because of lack of awareness. The school didn’t facilitate a scribe for Manmohan to write his Board exams. Later on, the Eyeway counselor explained NIOS enrolment procedure so that he could appear for his Class X exams without wasting a whole academic year.

These are a few cases resolved by our dedicated team of visually impaired counselors. The objective driving Eyeway’s work is to raise the awareness levels and direct blind people to solutions like open schooling and other initiatives of both government and non-government organizations that can empower them towards independent living.

Regaining access and confidence

Forty-three-year-old Rajendra Dhuratakar is a resident of Akola district in Maharashtra. When he was in Class IV, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye condition that results in gradual sight loss. Though the family went in shock, Rajendra continued to study hard and topped his school. He later graduated with a degree in Agriculture but due to significant vision deterioration, he had to give up on further studies.

Knowing little about rehabilitation training or skilling programs for visually impaired people, Rajendra began pursuing government jobs under reserved quota for persons with disabilities (PwDs). He switched several jobs because he struggled to perform the tasks in the absence of accessible tools or environment. He worked in the Maharashtra State Seeds Corporation, as a Gram Sevak, as a Junior Research Assistant and so on.

A lot of government officials and departments continue to be ill informed about providing reasonable accommodation to persons with vision impairment, which can help them perform their roles effectively. This is when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (2016) clearly mandates provision of accessible tools or assistance to make the physical and digital environment accessible for PwDs.

Rajendra was always under pressure of losing his job, fearing that his low productivity would become an issue with his peers and superiors. So, he tried harder than everyone else, taking sighted assistance both inside and outside the office.

Luckily in his latest job in Animal Department and Farming, a senior recognized Rajendra’s challenge and moved him to a more suited role of guiding farmers via phone and in-person visits. The role involved disseminating information and maintaining a daily record of callers or visitors. For this, he took help from his wife and daughter every day, to help him write and record data.

When he sought help from the Eyeway Helpdesk, our counselor recommended the use of computers and Microsoft Office functions to increase efficiency. At first, Rajendra was a bit hesitant, but through follow up calls, the counselor convinced him stating how much time he could save, apart from gaining the ability to work independently.

Taking step by step guidance from the Eyeway team, Rajendra downloaded a screen reading software on his old computer and learnt the basics of MS Word and Excel from the counselor. He was also suggested to join online workshop for advanced computer training.

Today, Rajendra can seamlessly perform his job using a computer, independently maintaining data records, writing letters, and reading hard copies with the help of some smartphone accessible applications.

Onwards and upwards

Twenty-five-year-old Tanmaya is a resident of Karimnagar in Telangana. She started to lose her eye sight gradually after contracting jaundice at the age of two. She somehow managed to get by school, but with deteriorating vision, her difficulties in studying amplified as she reached college.

The significant sight loss left her dependent on her mother who either read out or recorded notes for her. Tanmaya and her family were oblivious to any assistive technology or ways of coping with blindness. A friend directed her to contact the Eyeway Helpdesk.

Tanmaya opened up to our counselor, expressing her desire to gain financial and physical independence. Before she came in touch with Eyeway, she had never heard of a white cane, a common mobility aid used by blind and visually impaired people.

She also shared her ambition to work as a teacher for which she required to clear the National Eligibility Test (NET). During the pandemic, Tanmaya explored some online courses to learn computers using screen reading software. She purchased a computer with her brother’s help but she lacked practical training. The Eyeway counselor shared some effective tips and screen reader commands that enabled her to start exploring the device on her own.

To gain professional expertise, she was recommended to join computer and mobility course at LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad. Using computers to read and write on her own and walking independently with a white cane would boost her confidence. Hence, the counselor persuaded her for rehabilitative training.

Tanmaya was also introduced to some smartphone applications to ease her daily living. For instance, the Google Lookout app is designed for blind people to use the camera and sensors to identify objects and text. Similarly, the new I-Stem app, an OCR based android app helps with documents and audio-video accessibility.

With regular guidance from the team of counselors and subscription to our WhatsApp messaging service, Tanmaya is equipping herself with information that will enable her to take small steps towards integrating into the mainstream.

Guiding from Lived Experience

One of the challenges that comes with disability is coping with the social stigma around it. When a person is born without vision, a certain picture of reality sets in the minds of the people around him or her. Moreover, the person also accepts the state as it is, unaware of another mode of existence. But for someone who acquires disability at a later stage, struggles doubly to accept the new reality and admit it to the surrounding community. They often remain obsessed with ‘what was’.

Eyeway receives calls from persons with late blindness, who are offered not just practical solutions but a lot of counseling to adapt and accept the loss of sight. Twenty-four-year-old Niranjan Patil experienced vision loss during his graduation. He was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and Macular Dystrophy, both degenerating eye conditions.

Unable to come to terms with his altered sense of existence, he kept it hidden from his peers and teachers. It was only after consistently failing some subjects that one of his teachers inquired about the issue. Niranjan was then put in touch with a visually impaired person in Mumbai who could help him with tips on living life with blindness. Although it was useful, Niranjan felt that his problem was different from this person who was born blind. He insisted on seeking support from someone who went through a similar scenario.

He was then put in touch with Eyeway Helpdesk counselor in Mumbai who also experienced sight loss due to RP in her early twenties. She could relate to his frustration on every front and offered him a patient hearing. Niranjan’s focus was on reversing or correcting his eye condition which was nearly impossible. The counselor took a fair bit of time and repeated phone calls to convince him to shift focus on rehabilitating and upskilling instead.

Motivated by the regular interactions, Niranjan reappeared for his exams, taking help from his friends and using the smartphone. Learning about the various private sector and government job opportunities, he decided to enroll for an MBA course. But he needed a disability certificate to avail admission and reasonable accommodation as a visually impaired student.

Unfortunately, the process of acquiring a Unique Disability Identity card took a rather tedious turn. The local civil hospital in the Chikkodi district of Karnataka failed to correctly assess his disability, terming it lower than the 40% benchmark set by law. The counselor realized that the hospital was ill-equipped to make an accurate assessment and directed Niranjan to the Belgaum Civil hospital.

Although the doctors in Belgaum noted his disability at 60%, they couldn’t officially issue a certificate because his application was filed with the system in Chikkodi civil hospital. Both Niranjan and the Eyeway counselor tried to argue his case with the medical authorities but they were turned down with insults and apathetic behaviour. Forced to take the legal route, Eyeway approached the State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities (SCPD) in Karnataka.

After a long-drawn official intervention from the SCPD office, Niranjan was issued a disability ID with 60% certification. But it was too late as the MBA course application deadline lapsed and now he has to wait another year for admission. The counselor told him not to be disappointed and use this one year to gain skills for independent living. He has now enrolled for a training program at Enable India, a Bangalore based NGO where he will acquire skills to use computers with screen reading software, work on his communication and mobility.

Lack of awareness leads to exclusion from mainstream opportunities and ignorance among medical professionals is even more damaging, as is evident from Niranjan’s case. He lost a few years adjusting to his late blindness and another one thanks to insensitive authorities.