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What Good Are We? - Guest column by Arun Dua

Our guest writer this week is Arun Dua from Chandigarh. Dua works with the NGO Disha, which produces audio books for visually impaired people and offers advocacy, counselling, empowerment and support for assistive technologies.

We are ashamed to ask for help. We do not accept assistance, from young or old, boy or a girl, mother of father or even anyone on the street. We want to be understood, without asking for it. Empathy? Yes, we don't want sympathy, pity or charity. Yet, we want to be treated as equals. After all, we are also Human Beings!

People wonder what has been our sin for this punishment. We tend to use it as God's gift - a qualification, meriting us special treatment and favors. But It should not be termed as pity or compassion. After all, it is our right and we are destined to stand out from the crowd. Although some sighted people like to slink away for fear of lending a helping hand. Or telling you their name. Others find you useless and your company only, an embarrassment. You accept it all because you have been indoctrinated that way since your schooling in a special school for the blind.

The society at large considers blindness as the worst of all impairments or disabilities. This conviction is probably a result of religious scriptures and practices. It is indeed our legacy that those who sinned were blinded by the God, men or rulers. Eyes of the enemy were gorged out to render them unreliable and ineffective. A begging bowl or vocations like chair-weaving, candle-making or creating music was the fate of the blind.

It has taken more than a century to improve somewhat the acceptability of the blind in the society after the milestones established by Helen Keller and Louis Braille, followed by the IT revolution. The computer spearheaded a new future for blind people. The speaking software, JAWS followed by NVDA and several others have given an altogether new dimension to the core competence and effectiveness of the blind.

Legislation has its own role in changing the attitude of the sighted world and inculcating a spirit of tolerance in spite of the psychological self-centered nature of the blind. Legal protection of rights and reservation has provided opportunities to the blind to rise from the age old drudgery of basket-weaving and singing for alms and take up white collar jobs or even entrepreneurship, employing other disabilities or marginalized sections. As a result, the blind have risen in socio economic levels in the society and are considered to be the better educated and economically better settled compared to other disabilities.

We are always on the lookout for concessions. The state doles out scholarships and appliances while NGOs train us to fend for ourselves through mobility practice, music and orchestra, games and sports and other such opportunities. Some NGOS also train us to cook, eat, dress- up and do household chores. Yet we keep looking up to the society, especially the philanthropists for laptops and finances for paying university mess bills in the name of higher education. We do not even spare the public transport, the railroad or the airlines to carry us on subsidized tariff as a matter of right.

It is this sympathy, pity or mercy which we tend to term as discrimination whenever there is any curtailment or roll back. It is discrimination when the boys do not let you play in their team of baseball or cricket. It is discrimination if the girl is not allowed to roam the street with her white cane. After all parents have genuine fear of pot-holes, stray dogs and dogs. Security is not always welcomed, by us!

Change in attitude needed

Being at receiving end all through our lives, we cannot help feeling discriminated against, if we have to be denied the doles, at times our rights have been so imbibed in us that we are unable to realize that we to have a duty to contribute to the society. The day this feeling dawns upon the visually impaired community and the blind are able to consider themselves as givers and not mere receivers, the discrimination will disappear on its own.

Change in the mindset of the blind, their parents, the NGOs nurturing them and the society at large towards the visually impaired is possible if all like me pledge to donate my cornea of both eyes after death, because it's my useless retina blinding me. If I can donate blood every blood months, I may be able to save several precious lives. I can pledge my organs as well as my body to an organ bank or a hospital since my dead body will be of no use to the sighted world, I left behind.

If we can give up our concessions to be used by those having shortage of means, it will also be a contribution from our side.

Finally, equipping ourselves with the latest skills, will help and inspire others like us to achieve our level of success. Our NGOs need to come forward to undertake entrepreneurship training, mentor-ship programs and venture capital funding so that the blind community is developed into entrepreneurs and providing bread and butter to several more, under different categories of disabilities, besides blindness. Such entrepreneurs alone will undertake research and development to produce devices and services, providing more and more independence to the blind and changing the curse of discrimination into a positive energy to forge ahead towards independence and equality.

The discrimination will end the day the blind boy decides to marry a blind girl instead of wasting the years of his youth, looking for a sighted match or vice - versa!

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