Volunteering with blind: Was I a teacher or a student?
…my experience of volunteering with visually impaired students.
We think we teach the blind students when we read for them but I always ended up learning from them. We are brought up in a society where disabled are always shown sympathy. When I first went to an NGO working with visually challenged students I felt I was in a different world and it sure opened a different world to me every weekend, a world that taught me a lot of things, beat my ego every time I thought I was more capable than the blind students there.
I enjoyed 3 years of reader service, cassette recording and editing books at Samarthanam and Mithrajyothi. I read for many students at Samarthanam. My first friend there was Renuka she was a girl from a small town who was born blind. First time I realized how difficult it is to communicate! Her imagination was completely different from mine, and I had to learn new ways to explain things and make her understand. I showed her how India map looks like on her hand which she kept practicing by herself and every time she asked me to look at her hand while she makes the map I could see a spark in her eyes and she was really enjoying it. That is what kept me going back to her week after week and it made me realize that there are other ways of doing things too. But this ended soon when she completed her M.Com and moved to NAB for further training.
Then I started reading for Suresh and Raghavendra who were preparing for CAT exams. Suresh never liked people who sympathized with him. He always wanted people to treat him like a normal person. If someone called him blind he would be upset all day. During one of those days I attended disability sensitization session by Shanthi Raghavan at my office which helped me understand a lot about their behavior. But certain instances with them showed me that attending training was not be enough and how I need to be more sensitive and thoughtful.
It was one of those weekends when we were practicing CAT mock papers and I wanted to make a note of questions from Suresh and Raghavendra. I didn’t have a pen with me and quite casually, I asked them if they had one. Raghavendra said no, Suresh never answered and I asked couple of times – oh don’t you have a pen?? (my thought was a pen had to be there with them when they are carrying a bagful of books and notes) and he suddenly got up and went inside to drink water. I thought for a while if I had said something wrong, but the mistake was done. They don’t keep a pen simply because they don’t use it. I wanted to say sorry but then that would make him think I am showing sympathy. I actually told him about it after 3 years that he taught me that I can not be asking for a pen from people who don’t use it just like sighted people don’t use a Braille pad.
He said he has started keeping a pen with him as a lot of people keep asking him and he does not want them to think about his disability.
Another time when he was preparing for TISS interview he asked me a surprising question – if there is anything that he could do which would make the interviewer think he is not blind.
Well, at first I felt he should accept his disability then try to overcome it with different technologies around to help them. Then I realized there could be some ways that will help him project himself as more confident if not sighted. I asked this question to one of my senior colleagues who was trained in NLP (Neuro Lingusitc Program).
Instead of talking about my question he asked me what was the color of my uniform when I was in primary school? I was puzzled but still I tilted my head a bit and looked up to remember the color and then he said many of us do that to remember something from past. Likewise we look down, close eyes or raise brows and many other actions unconsciously when we are thinking and talking. He said these are natural reflexes where one tries to recollect memories from one part of the brain and another part of the brain to think creatively. If Suresh could be himself with these natural reflexes then he would probably look more confident.
I am not sure how far it helped Suresh with his interview but it sure amazed me how they are constantly trying to change the way people treat them and trying to break the group called “People with Disability”.
We can, all together, create a more inclusive place where nobody feels less or more abled than others.
This is the reason why I got involved in the “giftabled” project and I am sure we can bring some inclusiveness together.
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