Does Empathy Stem from a Lived Experience Alone?

By Shruti Pushkarna

I almost didn’t write this piece. In fact my mind was totally blank. No ideas. Zilch. Then I wondered to myself, this column is all about voicing issues, it’s not like there’s a dearth of those. The challenge is not the lack of ideas or issues, but my brain’s selfish need to focus on personal problems.


At this point I’m overwhelmed with taking care of my Covid-positive parents. I maybe convinced that there are no bigger problems in the world. But the truth is no one cares. No one outside of my tiny family bubble cares at all. Everyone is consumed with their own life hassles. Read more

Why Dissociate Dignity from Disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

There comes a point in life when everyone needs a bit of help. As I write this piece, I am writhing in pain. On any given day, I score myself quite high on the strength quotient when it comes to overcoming challenges, even physical discomfort. But not today. I sought professional help, acknowledging my inability to deal with the situation.

People seek support from friends, family and even total strangers at times. We all need assistance, it could be physical, emotional or financial. But despite the universal need, seeking help is often likened to a weakness. It puts the person giving help on a pedestal, patronising the one receiving it. Read more

Looking beyond the impairment

Twenty-six-year-old Kush Verma has many aspirations. After an oxygen overdose at birth left him blind, his wealthy parents from Ahmedabad, Gujarat tried everything in their reach but didn’t succeed in restoring his vision. With no awareness on raising a blind child, they confined Kush to home till he turned ten.

On a family friend’s suggestion, he was enrolled into a blind school. At school, Kush’s desire to learn and progress was evident in the pace at which he picked up braille and mobility skills. He went on to complete his Class 12 examinations. During this time, he developed a keen interest in learning computers and hence expressed his desire to pursue his Bachelor’s in Computer Applications from a renowned institution outside his state. His parents feared leaving their blind son alone in an unknown place. Kush, therefore, had to persist with a regular BA course in his city.

When Kush contacted the Eyeway Helpdesk, his inclination towards establishing a career in technology still ran strong. Equipped to deal with parents who often focus on the impairment over the potential of their child, Eyeway counselor thought it best to first counsel the parents by citing accounts of other successful blind people. Kush’s parents were guided to shift their focus on their son’s capabilities as an individual. Further, we facilitated his enrolment in the Technical Training Institute in Pune for a year- long Accessibility testing course which requires him to attend classes remotely for nine months and physical training in the campus for the last three months.

Eyeway is hopeful that Kush’s progress in the course will have a positive impact and free his parents of all apprehensions.

Ignorance on responding to blindness or raising children with vision impairment permeates across socio-economic status of families. Like Kush, there are numerous others who need opportunities to prove their ability to accomplish despite the disability.

Upgrading from conventional to digital

Visually impaired since birth, Bajrangbali from Kaimur, Bihar, studied in a blind school till Class 10. Before reaching out to the Eyeway Helpdesk, he mostly read and wrote in braille. However, he was keen to find an alternate solution as he enrolled in Class 11.

The Eyeway counsellor apprised him of various mobile apps including Kibo, that reads and translates printed/handwritten/digital text across 100+ languages in real-time via audio. Through the next series of calls, the Eyeway counselor trained Bajrangbali to use the app independently. As a result, he now regularly uses the Kibo app to access his study material.

Ever since the seventeen-year-old has been a regular Eyeway caller seeking solutions and information on various other issues related to his day to day needs.

Unconventional success

A resident of Ernakulum district of Kerala, 27-year-old Amitha was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition in Class 5. At school; she mostly occupied the front seat in her classroom to have clearer access to the blackboard for reading. Despite facing challenges while studying in a mainstream school, Amitha with the support of her family went on to complete her Master’s degree in English. She even cleared the UGC’s National Eligibility Test (NET), becoming eligible for an Assistant Professor’s post. Unfortunately, she was not selected by the college where she applied for a job.

Amitha did not let the rejection dampen her spirit. She reached out to Eyeway seeking help with the procedure to register for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). While the Eyeway counselor guided her with the registration process, the counselor also realized the need for basic computer training to enable her to access study material and online platforms for her examination. She was counseled on the importance of computer skills for better employment opportunities.

She was further guided to enroll for windows-based training at RCG Foundation followed by an advanced six-month course from Karnataka Eyeway Helpdesk partner, Enable India. With the hard work and keen interest in learning, Amitha stood out in her batch and became proficient in computers and English language.

Three years later when the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt, Amitha reached out to Eyeway again looking for job opportunities as a computer trainer. The counsellor encouraged her to start online classes given the lack of jobs due to the pandemic crisis.

Amitha paid heed to Eyeway’s advise and started her own online computer and English classes for visually impaired people.

With 90% vision impairment, Amitha has managed to overcome several barriers, carving out her own independent path.

Fuelling Dreams

Blindness can be disorienting and traumatizing especially when it involves young children. This means all the habits, routines and processes one relied on have to be relearned. As a parent, it needs acceptance and careful handling as it has a significant bearing on the child’s future.

Pawan Kasliwal from Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra, went through the pain of watching both his children, a boy and a girl lose vision. Not losing hope, he continued supporting them to live an independent and fulfilling life, instilling confidence in children about their future prospects.

Pawan’s older child, Mohit aspires to be a software engineer. However, with no role model to look at and discouragement for blind students from pursuing the Science field, both father and son, unsure about the way forward, approached Eyeway for guidance.

Eyeway understood their apprehensions and explained to them about various career opportunities within the Science stream that Mohit could opt for. He was also informed about the special provision for blind students, where they only have to appear in the written exams and are exempted from the practicals.

Next, Mohit was connected with a Delhi based technical education expert on subjects like Science, technology and engineering for visually impaired students. Pawan was also counseled to enroll his son into ‘The Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged’ that provides customized support to visually impaired students, making their educational material and examination method accessible.

This infused fresh energy in Pawan and his children. Mohit is excelling in his studies and has recently enrolled for a Science course at a local college. His sister, now in Class 9, fluently operates computers using screen reading software.

Eyeway believes that an independent life is every blind individual’s right, and therefore continues to support this cause through knowledge and resource sharing.

Technological intervention

Blind by birth, 23 -year-old Vinayak from Karnataka has braved many odds to compete in the upcoming Common Entrance Test (CET), so he can pursue his dream of becoming a Biotechnology Engineer. He relied on his friends to read and research study material for his preparation.

From a young age, Vinayak was inclined towards Science. However, visually impaired students are often discouraged from opting for Science after Class 8 as teachers are ill-equipped to teach such disciplines. Victim of such a bias, he was denied admission in Class 11.

Vinayak refused to let his disability become his shortcoming and kept applying elsewhere. Fast forward to today, he has completed his Class 12 securing 75% marks.

Given his lack of sight and family’s vulnerable financial condition, Vinayak’s zeal and motivation alone was not enough to pursue his aspirations. Eyeway identified a basic computer and life skills training programme that could help him become independent for ease of education as well as to increase his chances of employment.

However with the Coronavirus outbreak, all such trainings switched to the online mode, rendering Vinayak helpless, as he could not afford assistive devices to access these programmes.

Gadgets like computers and smartphones that seem ordinary to sighted individuals are life-changing assistive devices for students like Vinayak. Using a computer or smartphone enabled with a screen reading software, not only gives them access to a whole new world of online learning but also enables them to become self –reliant and confident in every aspect of life.

Eyeway explored ways to help Vinayak and succeeded in connecting him to a local organisation that offered the desired resources. Bangalore based NGO, Help the Blind Foundation provided Vinayak with a laptop along with screen reading software to enable him in continuing his learning.

Eye Health cannot just be about Avoidable Blindness

By Shruti Pushkarna

Gratitude. Given all that’s been happening around us in the recent times, this is one word I like to begin and end each day with. Because I truly believe, I lead a good life (well, in most parts). In fact, a lot of us do. But somehow we forget and take things for granted. Until something surprises or shocks us into believing otherwise.

When I look at news from around the country and the world, it feels depressing. Rapes, drugs, derisive politics, looting, lynching, suicides, untimely deaths, incurable illnesses. We consume all such content on a daily basis, which makes us question our belief in humanity or the intrinsic goodness in people. Read more

Purposeful persistence

17-year old Sachin Porwal lives in Udaipur Rajasthan. After successfully completing his Class 10 examinations from a special school for the blind, he was keen to pursue higher education in an inclusive set-up. But when he applied to a renowned school in his state, he was denied admission on the grounds of his blindness. This however, was not the first time he was meted with such discriminatory behavior. When he started to lose his vision in Class 6 due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, he was forced to leave the school. On knowing that he was blind, other reputed mainstream schools also closed their doors on him. Despite being financially well-off, his parents had to enrol him in a blind school that had minimal resources.

Sachin’s parents even submitted a copy of RPWD Act 2016 to the school, which clearly states that children with disabilities have equal rights to education and that a quota must be reserved for such students by every school in the hope of admission of their son. However, this substantial document did little to convince the school administration. On the contrary, the school authorities hurled insulting questions at Sachin’s father like ‘’How was his son going to eat, change classrooms, cope with his sighted peers? Who would be responsible if something happened to him?

The school’s apprehension stemmed from their ignorance and weak intentions to enrol a blind boy in the school.

On knowing the issue, Eyeway apprised a Disability Rights Advocacy group in Udaipur on the matter and connected Sachin’s family with them. Further, a written complaint was filed and sent to the State Disability Commissioner who issued an order to the school stating that they cannot deny admission on the grounds of disability to any eligible student.

This had an immediate impact. Sachin was granted admission. On his part, he addressed the school’s apprehensions by demonstrating effective use of his assistive devices such as laptop enabled with screen reader that makes reading and writing notes easier, and a Daisy player (Digital Accessible Information System) that helps him in gathering knowledge.

Due to the pandemic all education is being imparted digitally. And Sachin’s equal participation in the online classes has brought about a subtle shift in the authorities’ mindset. His school principal often attends the sessions to ensure that teachers are adapting and catering to his needs.