Most of the visually impaired people live with a feeling that they can’t achieve much in life. Even their parents feel the same. The reason for which is there is lack of awareness and information available on issues pertaining to visually impaired. A report released in 2017 said that the number of blind people in India stood at 8.8 million, which will grow to 115 million by 2050. George Abraham realised early on that India has a large base of the untapped potential of the blind people. This potential is often overlooked owing to the fact that families are not aware of how blind people can be self -reliant and achieve to the best of their ability. This prompted him to start EyeWay, a network of help desks which provides counselling for blind persons and their parents.
George, who himself has an eye condition since childhood started EyeWay, a unique helpline for blinds and their family. It is a network of nine centres situated at different parts of the country which helps a blind person or his/her family to connect with counsellors present at these nine centres in case of any query, be it related to education, skill development or job opportunity.
Journey to make visually-impaired people self-reliant
The Logical Indian spoke to George Ibrahim, the man behind EyeWay to understand what prompted him to start an organisation dedicated exclusively to the needs of visually impaired. George says, “I have been suffering from an eye-condition since childhood. But I was lucky that my parents were extremely supportive and they did not let me feel that I am any less capable than other children.”
Talking about his journey, George said, “It was 1988-89 when my wife was pregnant with our first child. She had then taken a break from her work and in her free time, she decided to learn Braille. For this, we decided to visit a school for blinds. The school we visited was in deplorable condition.”
The school was not maintained properly, even the teachers are not trained properly to tend to the needs of a visually impaired child. “The attitude of the teachers was disappointing. There was no conviction in the way they spoke. Even the curriculum was old and not up to the mark. They themselves said ‘these children are blind, how much can they achieve’. All this made me realise how lucky I was, and that many other children might not be as fortunate.”
George made a resolve to do something about it. “Soon after, I set out for a journey across the country, to understand people and their attitude towards visually impaired people and different possibilities.”
He was in Dehradun when he saw a group of young visually impaired people playing cricket. The idea of inculcating a sense of belongingness, team spirit and channelizing the energy of the visually impaired through sports appealed to him. “I realised that this was a great way to shift the focus of people from the blindness of a person to their ability.”
He then started National Cricket tournament for the visually impaired 1996. Within two years of its inception, the tournament reached international level, with seven countries participating. By 2006, George decided to hand over the reins to a younger team and he then moved to Delhi.
“Through the Cricket tournaments which we organised, it reinstated my belief that blindness is not a problem, attitude is.”
It was in 2003 that George started Eyeway. “I realised that most of the times families don’t know how to nurture the true potential of their blind child.”
“One of my neighbours’ relative has two kids, both are visually impaired. My neighbour brought those children and their mother to me for guidance. The mother do not know how to make her children self sufficient. The mother kept in touch with me, always seeking information of how her children can be facilitated to help them perform well in their lives. Today, both the children are pursuing their post-graduation at the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences.”
Having established that blind children can indeed achieve a lot if proper motivation and guidance is provided to them, George started Eyeway. “We initially began as a website. In those days, the internet was still a new concept, so we could not really engage many people. We soon started our own Hindi radio channel “Ye Hai Roshni Ka Karavan”. This saw tremendous success.”
In 2006, Eyeway established itself as a helpdesk. “We realised that people are most comfortable in their mother tongue. We decided to extend our network of helpdesks. We opened eight more centres across the country.”
How does Eyeway operate
Eyeway is a network of help desks situated at nine locations across the country. The centres are distributed in a way that a person calling from the Northern part of India will be directed to Delhi helpdesk, for a person calling from Karnataka would be directed to the Bangalore helpdesk and a person calling from Maharashtra or Goa would be directed to the Mumbai helpdesk. There is one toll number, 1800 300 20469, and all the incoming calls are routed to the nearest helpdesk through Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS)
Each helpdesk has collaborated with the NGO of that place, working extensively for the welfare of visually impaired. At present, Eyeway is a network of organizations like National Association for the Blind, Saksham Trust and Score in Delhi, EnAble India and Mitra Jyothi in Bangalore, Navchetna Institute in Patiala, Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Mumbai and Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad.
People call in with questions regarding education and employment opportunities, mobility, assistive technology, legal rights and so on. In places with multiple help desks, the calls are directed to all centres and whichever centre attends the call first, that centre would help/assist the caller.
There are numerous instances where EyeWay has helped its visually challenged callers with issues like employability and education. One of such people, Sanju was helped by Eyeway to train as a masseuse. Sanju pursued this profession for a while after which he decided to join his family business of sports goods manufacturing. After training himself, he contacted EyeWay again, telling them that he would like to help few visually impaired persons by training them in the business. Right now, he has employed few visually impaired people in his business.
One more person, Vikram, was working in a company but harboured a desire to pursue MBA. He applied for a college under Delhi University which offers 1% quota for visually impaired. However, due to discrepancies in the seat allocation, he was denied admission under the visually impaired quota. EyeWay helped him fight his case which finally resulted in Vikram being able to pursue his dream. Not only did he scored one of the highest marks in his batch, he was also able to secure job at a reputed MNC.
Interestingly, there are dedicated WhatsApp groups for sending out news updates and job opportunities for the blinds.
EyeWay will now be setting up help desks at different hospitals. In cases where no treatment can be provided for a particular eye condition, EyeWay would offer counselling to such persons and would inform them of possible future actions they can take and opportunities to learn and get employed.
Eyeway leads by example, many of its employees are visually impaired themselves. If two people of same merit standing apply, preference is given to the one who is visually impaired. There are two reasons for it. Firstly, it would provide employability to the visually impaired, thereby empowering them, and secondly, when other visually impaired people come across them, it gives them confidence that they too can become self-reliant and independent.
In his message to The Logical Indian community, George says that no feat is unachievable if proper guidance is provided. “Families should encourage and motivate their blind child to achieve the best in life. They have a lot of hidden potentials, the only thing is, it should be identified and nurtured.”
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