Monday, April 15, 2024
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Understanding the lives of visually impaired persons

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By H H Mohrmen

Despite December 3 being celebrated as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, this section of the population continues to be the most neglected in society. They do not always appear on the radar screen of any government scheme and are overlooked even by the public. The Society of Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE), taking advantage of the Meghalaya State Skill Development Society’s training programme, planned a training programme for the visually impaired section of society. While planning the training, we thought it would be a typical training; we never expected that we would learn so much from them. The training was a great learning experience for me personally and for the staff of the organization in general.
“The Blind Lead
the Blind”
It was a significant milestone in the annals of the NGO SURE as it embarked on a month-long special training programme catering to the visually impaired segment of our society. There is a saying, “The blind cannot lead the blind,” but what makes this initiative truly remarkable is that Kelvin Suting of the District Commerce Industries Centre (DCIC), a Jowai award-winning master trainer, is himself a visually impaired person.
The one-month training for seven visually impaired trainees from the district covers trades such as making broomsticks, mats or bamboo brooms. The training was an innovation in itself, specially designed with the visually impaired person in mind. Kelvin Suting, the master trainer, recalled his past experiences with training and highlighted the struggles that he had to overcome when trained by instructors who were not visually impaired. The trainers could not understand the challenges faced by blind trainees. Based on this observation, the training was designed by Ialsiewdor Gashnga, Programme Coordinator Skill, SURE, in collaboration with Kelvin Suting, the master trainer, and Lamobormi Suchen, Skill Development Officer, to create course content specifically meant for differently-abled individuals. The training was conducted using only the sense of touch, and the training module has been tailored to meet the needs of the visually challenged.
They too have their own dreams and aspirations
Krishna Phawa, one of the trainees, expressed his aspiration to follow in Kelvin’s footsteps and hoped that the training would not only enable him to earn a livelihood and find success in life but, more importantly, to be able to train others. Initially, when we planned this training, we were a little uncertain; we were not sure if this would work, but deep in our hearts, we knew that it would in some way or another help our visually impaired friends. And we realized that it has somehow helped them gain at least one skill to help them earn their livelihood.
The most important lesson that I learned from spending time with them is that all of them yearn to be independent. The training had helped them, in some way, break out of the monotonous life that has confined them to their homes. After being together for one month, it has also helped build camaraderie among them.
They don’t want to live on the sympathy of their parents and their loved ones. They don’t want to continue depending on their parents or relatives, even for small things; they want to live an independent life as much as they can. In some way, we have been able to enable them to achieve their dream. Hopefully, society will also listen to their wishes and provide an enabling system and an environment that will help them live an independent life. One also hopes that the government will make roads, footpaths, and even government institutions that are much more accessible for the differently-abled citizens of this state.
Learning from a day out with the visually impaired
A few days before the training ended, the visually impaired master trainer asked me if we could arrange a picnic or an outing for them to Loomkyntoor Resort. Although no funds were allocated from the scheme for the excursion, we still decided to give them the opportunity with our own funds. But the question really is, what does an outing really mean for a group of visually impaired people? What does a trip really mean when one can’t see anything? The organization’s staff never thought that the outing would make them happier than the visually impaired. It is said that there is no bigger reward than seeing the people you care for, happy. Going for a picnic is one thing, but for them, going together as a group of visually impaired people is something that cannot be explained. One can see the camaraderie that they have built among them. It was a joy to see them happy and to help explain to them about the place, and for some of them, it was the first time in their lives that they ate out or in a restaurant.
Visually Impaired Taking Photographs
One would wonder why they would want to take a photograph of themselves or with their friends when they cannot even see. What will they do with the photographs anyway? All visually impaired trainees, except one, have a smartphone and at least a WhatsApp account. The moment the photograph is taken, it is immediately uploaded to their status. Even if they are blind, the app on the device also helps them take photographs. It tells them if the photo is within the frame or not. You can see the joy in their faces when they upload their status on WhatsApp. Thanks to the smartphone device, they can also make the best use of technology. Smartphones, in some way, have become extensions of their being and help them access other services, a feat that would have been impossible to achieve had it not been for the device. Their eyes are closed, but their hearts are open, and they long for independence to live the life they wish to live.
How They Made the Best Use of the Smartphone
Among the visually impaired people we had close interaction with, Krishna Phawa stood out as one of the most experienced in making the best use of the smartphone device. Krishna not only uses WhatsApp and email but also uses G-Pay to send and receive money. Although he is 100 percent blind but because he also lives in Shillong he can also book a Rapido ride to travel in the city. He even has a YouTube channel of his own. Krishna, who has somehow mastered the use of a special app on his smartphone, wishes he could be of help to his fellow visually impaired people and help them make the best use of smartphones. Apps that are commonly used by visually impaired people are ‘Be my eyes’ and ‘Lookout’, which help them read books, medicines, prescriptions, and even scan documents for them. There are also apps for the visually impaired, like ‘Kybo, 4 percent, and Keep Note’, which help them text, and they can use it as a reminder.
Demonetization
or Note Ban
The National Democratic Alliance government’s note ban, or demonetization, has had a huge impact on visually impaired people. The note ban has affected them greatly, but the general public was not aware of it because their stories were never told. How does the Modi note ban affect the visually impaired citizens of this country? One would remember that the old notes have different sizes according to their value; for example, the size of a one hundred rupee note varies from the size of a fifty, twenty, ten, or one rupee note. The notes are easily distinguishable by people, even if they cannot see them. Because of the different sizes of the notes, visually impaired people can easily identify the currency by merely touching it. After demonetization, almost all the currency notes are of the same shape and size, which makes it difficult for people who cannot see to differentiate one from the other. Now they have to use an app like ‘Mani’ to help them identify currency notes.
International day for persons with disabilities
December 3 is celebrated the world over as a special day for persons with disabilities, but let us ask ourselves if we have been able to provide them with an environment and a space in which they can live as independently as we all are? Isn’t it true that we only look at them with sympathy or even look down at them? Has the government been able to make even government buildings easily accessible to differently-abled people? This is a million dollar question.

 

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