By Bhavya Shah
Close to four years ago, as a result of periodic retinal detachments in both eyes, my remaining vision was at a critical stage, whose usefulness was next to negligible. Although in a matter of a few more months, when my camera lens diffused with thoroughness, even at that time, I was compelled to abandon all pointless efforts to continue writing on a hard-copy notebook in almost illegible handwriting, and dismiss attempts of persisting with mainstream ways of note-taking. For the majority of the second term of my fifth grade, my education took place very precariously and unsystematically, using oral means to access notes and textbooks, relying on friends and family to Xerox or copy classwork, and taking examinations with particularly experimental scribes.
My parents were redirected to special schools, recommended home-schooling, and provided the most preposterous suggestions to somehow continue, or in certain instances, completely disband my further education. This unknowing despair went on for a significant number of months, and the future of my schooling became an uncertainty.
A ray of light crept into this cavern of confinement only when a distant relative informed my parents about rehabilitation institutes existent in the community for computer, daily living, mobility training, and wholistic empowerment of vision-impaired individuals. A promising quest recommenced for my resurrection, to change the hopelessness of my case to that of potential and possibilities, to put me back on track.
I was guided to a regional branch of a national blindness agency in India, National Association of the Blind (NAB). Since their services primarily included rendering Braille literacy, which happened to be a priority for me unquestionably second to re-learning the computer with ‘talking software’, a kind NAB executive redirected me to Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), and that is where my true journey really began.
Note: To protect confidentiality of the identity of individuals I came across at XRCVC, names shall be omitted.
On my first visit (to the not-so-near resource centre), my first observation was of the benevolence and empathy the XRCVC staff displayed. The centre wasn’t necessarily extremely big in size, but the knowledge that other blind people were operating computers just around me, that too with total independence and efficiency, invigorated and overwhelmed me at the same time, even at that fond age of eleven.
As the Project Director & Counsellor at XRCVC was having a chat with my parents, clarifying their concerns and anxieties about many day-to-day activities in which I was inefficient or in which I faced inconveniences, the Special Educator gave me a brief tour of a variety of available assistive technologies, including a magnification software that proved incompatible with my inadequate vision, the Kurzweil OCR utility which digitized printed content, and the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reader whose friendly voice invited me to the virtualized world awaiting me, a world which would transform me forever. Little did I know about the magnitude of the impact these pathbreaking technologies were going to have on my life…
About the author:
Bhavya Shah is a 16-year-old techie, quizzer and debater from Mumbai, India. He is passionate about STEM, world politics and disability rights. When he is not burdened by school homework nor busy blogging, you might either find him programming in Python, reading a contemporary classic, or aimlessly perusing the Internet. He lost his complete vision at the age of 11.