Are We Doing Enough For The Visually Impaired In India?
By: Rukmini Chopra
Published On: April 09, 2018
My grandmother walks with difficulty. She often has to use a walker or a wheelchair to get from one point to the other. When we go out to eat, we have to choose restaurants that either have slopes or staircase runners that my grandmother can use for her walker and wheelchair.
We spend a considerable amount of time in our research because there are barely any restaurants that have facilities to host disabled people.
My grandma is a keen traveller but is restricted to spending most of her time at home; not because of her own disability to walk but because of the disability of so many public and recreational spaces to comfortably host the differently abled.
I’ll be honest, as a citizen, I only realized the gravity of this situation after witnessing the hassle that my grandma has to go through. And I know that there are many more like her who are restricted access to places and activities due to lack of awareness and empathy for the mentally and physically disabled in India.
According to this report by WeCapable, 2.21 % of Indians, suffer from disability, making the overall count 2,68,00,000. Out of the disabled population in India, blind and visually impaired people comprise the maximum number.
Some will argue that we as a nation are beginning to get sensitized towards the blind. For example:
The Indian Express reports that last year, IIT-Bombay opened a facility in the Central Library of the campus, that caters to visually-impaired students. In another example, The Better India reports that Anuprayaas, an NGO working towards the welfare of visually-impaired people was responsible for making the Mysuru railway station blind-friendly.
While there are facilities that are coming up for the blind, there is a need to do so much more.
For starters, we need to be more aware. Most people don’t know the difference between blind and visually impaired. The former is defined as ‘a decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses’. The term blindness is used when ‘there is complete or nearly complete vision loss.’
Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), launched the Accessible India Campaign (Sugmaya Abhiyan) in 2015 , to make 50% of government buildings in the national capital as well as state capitals “fully accessible” to people suffering from disabilities. Asian Age reports that the campaign has made close to no progress since its inception.
A revolution needs to take place with regards to how we treat the disabled, especially the blind, in our country. Here are some ways in which we can make day-to-day life better for the blind:
- There needs to be a dedicated pathway for the disabled at railway stations, with staircase runners for support. A staff special staff should be deployed to help the specially-abled.
- There is a severe need for braille charts, maps and railway tickets.
- In standard BEST buses, there are 12 seats reserved for women, 4 reserved seats for senior citizens and just 2 seats reserved for the handicapped.
- The buses need to have ramps at the entrances for the blind to board easily.
- There need to be obstruction-free pathways that can be used by the blind, along with designated helpers to take them around the hospitals.
- The prescription of medicine, the forms, etc. should be in braille so that blind people don’t have to depend on others for help. Another way to fix this problem is the availability of audio instructions.
- HR teams can make workplaces more blind-friendly by conducting workshops in sensitizing people to reduce hostility, if any, towards the blind.
- There shouldn’t be a bias in recruiting those who are found to be visually impaired for functions where their disability would not affect or hinder their performance.
- They can rope in NGOs and foundations that cater to the visually-impaired, to come and conduct these workshops for the employees.
- Special pathways should be constructed for the visually-impaired. There is also a need for designated toilets at work places for them along with emergency exits.
- HR policies and other documents should be made available in Braille.
There are companies who have taken steps to successfully integrate the blind.
For example, Tata Teleservices Limited launched Project Drishti in 2007 under its outreach programme, to provide equal work opportunities to the visually-impaired. The company launched two call centres under Project Drishti, with the pilot project in Mumbai in association for the National Association for the Blind. Owing to its success, the project was replicated in Delhi, in association with the Blind Relief Association.
- This article by TRT sheds light on why the current currency is posing a huge problem for the blind. The difference in the sizes of the new Rs. 500 (W=150mm, H=66mm) note and Rs. 200 (W=146mm, H=66mm) note is very little, making it incredibly difficult for the blind to the tell them apart, through touch.
- The same is the case with coins, where the shape, girth as well as the smooth edges of the new 1 rupee and 2 rupee coins is identical.
- The RBI and government need to implement changes in the current designs of the Indian currency.
- They can also opt for the previous designs of Indian notes and coins that were differently sized and had varied girths, making it extremely easy for the blind population to use them.
What we can do
- Aside from the obvious examples such as helping the blind cross the road, we need to be more cognizant about their condition.
- Many of us have a habit of occupying their reserved spaces in seats and buses, making it difficult for them to find place. There is a need for us to break this selfish habit.
Several NGOs have been working towards the welfare of the blind. Score Foundation works towards eradicating the stigma around visually impaired people, especially women, that are abandoned by their families. They came up with a helpline to tend to the blind.
Mithra Jyoti empowers the visually-impaired by supporting their educational needs and finding suitable jobs for them.