Teaching The Visually Challenged to Live Independently In India

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By Vidya Bhushan Arora
Deputy Director (Media and Communication)

New Delhi, Jab 3, 2010 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) Bhola Nath, after graduating from the National Institute of Visually Handicapped (NIVH) at Dehradun, started working as Inspector of Braille Appliances, at the Institute’s workshop, manufacturing Braille appliances. To anyone, this visually impaired young man seems to be very proud of his work and his Institute. After all, this Institute has been his home for years now. To a group of visiting official media people he gave a demonstration of use of ‘Braille Slate’ by writing with a Stylus and educated them about the various nuances of the assistive devices being produced here. Apart from a wide-range of  educational assistive devices like Braille Slate, Geometry Kit, Tactile Diagram Set etc, the appliances produced here range from Folding Walking Stick to Needle Threader and recreational items such as Chess Board, Puzzles and even Playing Cards. Bhola Nath explains with pride that these devices are very helpful for persons with visual impairments and helps them in working independently. “Yes, I sing old Hindi film songs”, he coyly informs us when we ask him about his hobbies.

The National Institute for the Visually Handicapped at 116, Rajpur Road, Dehradun is a premier Institute in the field of visual disability working under the administrative control of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. It came into existence in 1943 as St. Dunstan’s Hostel for the War Blinded. After Independence, the Centre was taken over by the Ministry of Education in 1950 following which services for the visually impaired witnessed remarkable expansion. With expanding services, it transformed as National Institute for the Visually Handicapped in 1979 and was granted status of an autonomous body in 1982. The Institute is committed to promoting the rights and dignity of persons with visual impairments. To achieve this, the Institute produces trained manpower for providing quality education, vocational training and rehabilitation services to the visually impaired persons. It also undertakes research and developmental activities ensuring emergence of disability inclusive policies, programmes and practices. Its R&D activities have contributed a number of useful tools and enabling technologies for equal participation by the visually impaired persons in different walks of life. The Institute is largest producer and distributor of Braille literature and devices in the country including talking books.

Modernization and Capacity Building

The Director of the NIVH, Ms. Anuradha Mohit, who herself is a visually impaired person since the age of 10, has wide experience in the field of advocacy for the cause of persons with disabilities. Ms. Mohit says that when she joined the NIVH in 2006, she was asked by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to work on an agenda for the modernization of the Institute. Modernization, she says, also refers to an efficiently managed institute and the test of an efficiently managed organization lies in ‘customers’ satisfaction’.  The ‘customers’ in the case of NIVH are mainly the visually impaired persons, secondly their families and thirdly the skilled groups of people who provide services to the visually impaired persons. These skilled persons include the mobility instructors, optometrists, counselors, vocational instructors and teachers etc. “We have taken several initiatives to meet this objective and we are expecting positive results of efforts as soon we will have our own community radio, an online books library and a printing press which will print books for low vision people”, informs Ms. Anuradha Mohit.

Apart from this, the Institute must also perform the task of ‘capacity building’ which in the case of NIVH means, it should effectively intervene to sensitize the service providers in the society about the needs, rights and the expectations of the visually impaired persons. For instance, ‘capacity building’ in the case of Hospitals would mean informing the Hospital Staff about rehabilitation opportunities for the blinds and low vision person because a Doctor, normally, is the first contact point in the life of a disabled person. The traditional role of a medico is to cure the disability or prevent its further deterioration. Since they are the first contact persons, they should know that persons who cannot be treated of their disability, they can be referred to the appropriate agencies and organizations for rehabilitation. “Therefore, our capacity building programme for Hospital necessarily aim at capacity building of health professionals”, says Ms. Mohit.

Another example could be that of Contractors and Builders. In their context, capacity building would mean training in inclusive design – training in designing the building with features of independent use of building and surrounding areas. Capacity building is of vital importance because a blind person is also a citizen and his or her survival depends upon public services and public infrastructure like transport, educational institutes, hospitals, shopping centres, courts, and play grounds etc. A blind person must have the skills to negotiate the public infrastructure which should be so designed that they can use them without any hindrance.

Community Radio

The Institute is soon going to have its own Community Radio. This will have its area of operation within the five kilometer radius of NIVH.  The Community Radio will work as practical Laboratory for students of Radio Broadcasting – a course to be introduced next academic year.  This would include training in Radio programming as well as Radio Jockey. The Course will have two parts – the first six month course will lead to a Certificate and those who undertake an additional training of another six month will be awarded a Diploma.

Country’s First Online Books Library

There is another soon to be launched project at the NIVH – Country’s first Online Books Library will soon be a reality. This Library will have a large number of Braille books on Website. In the first phase, the Online Books will be in ten languages and gradually, this facility will be expanded to more regional languages.  The members of this Online Library will also have access to the foreign Online Books too as the Library will become part of the international consortium where exchange of Talking books would be possible with reputed Libraries abroad.

Printing Press

In another six months, the NIVH is also going to acquire the first large printing press which will produce books for the low vision persons. These books will also be useful for the elderly persons. This project will be on pilot basis and based on its experience in various aspects of the large print books, a full-fledged project will be undertaken at the regional centre of the NIVH at Chennai. The books will have to be split into the volumes depending on their weight and size. The pilot phase will be judged on various counts such as the print size preferences, colour contrast, ideal size and weight of the printed books and other such considerations that may concern the comforts of low vision persons.
Research and Development

In accordance with its primary objective, the Institute has so far  undertaken  123 research projects of which 115 have been completed successfully. The research endeavours of the Institute have not only stimulated debate on a number of policy issues crucial for the integration of blind persons in the national mainstream but have significantly contributed to the evolution and implementation of a number of developmental programmes and schemes. Under the R&D initiatives, 15 different devices have been designed and developed providing greater freedom of participation to the visually impaired persons in various walks of life.  The projects undertaken so far can be divided in four main categories thematically and that is education, employment, rehabilitation and tools for evaluation and independent living.

Braille Development Unit

NIVH is perceived as a corner stone in Braille Development owing to its long and deep involvement in the standardization of Bhartiya Braille, a system that corresponds to all the official languages of the country and notation systems for Maths, Music and Science.  It has also contributed Braille contractions and abbreviations and shorthand systems in most of the official languages apart from languages not having a proper written script.  For popularization of Braille, several steps have been undertaken. Short term training courses are conducted through out the year and distance education modules are also being tried out. In order to consolidate and regulate standards of Braille production, design of Braille appliances including Braille conversion softwares the Government has recently established the Braille Council of India under the aegis of NIVH.

Challenge of Rural Area

The issues relating to the visually impaired persons residing in rural areas pose a big challenge before the policy makers and a national institute like NIVH. To meet this challenge, NIVH has undertaken some initiatives. A very effective step in this direction has been taken by undertaking an ‘Action Research’ to ensure that maximum benefit can be availed of for the blind persons under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Through proper research, areas have been identified where visually impaired persons or low vision persons can be usefully deployed. The NIVH has also designed training modules to ensure that maximum blind persons get the work under this scheme.  For undertaking this kind of ‘action research’, two districts in Uttar Pradesh (Azamgarh and Varanasi) have been chosen. Already, over 135 visually impaired persons have been trained in the rural areas of Varanasi. The areas where such persons can be deployed include road construction, water harvesting, masonry etc. In addition, NIVH is also supporting a research project which focuses on education of blind children in the hilly regions.

This Article is based on a detailed conversation with Ms. Anuradha Mohit, Director of the National Institute of Visually Handicapped, Dehradun. (nivh.in)

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