In line with its vision and mission to empower visually impaired people across India Score Foundation a New Delhi-based non-profit organisation hosted a roundtable conference today at the India International Centre in New Delhi to raise awareness about the challenges faced by people who acquire blindness at a later stage in life. By highlighting these issues the discussions focused on identifying resources provisions and opportunities available to reorient train and include persons with late blindness back into the mainstream society.
Among the participants of the roundtable conference there was representation from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in the domain ophthalmologists government bodies responsible for skill development of persons with disabilities individuals with late blindness lawyers and so on. The group collectively discussed ideas and solutions that could be made available for this section of the blind population.
According to Census 2011 there are about 5.4 million visually impaired people in the country and out of these a sizeable 25 to 30 per cent fall in the age bracket of 25 to 50 years. The World Health Organisation puts the total count of blind people in India at around 63 million almost 20 per cent of the global blind population.
A majority of visually impaired people continue to live under ignorance of possibilities of a life with blindness. They are perceived as dependents and people of little worth and therefore marginalised by the mainstream society. The surrounding community including family friends academia employers even doctors often don’t direct them towards rehabilitation and they continue leading hopeless lives. If put through proper education training and reorientation every blind person can potentially become a part of the human resource of the country.
Said George Abraham CEO Score Foundation: “When someone loses eyesight at a later age the world is closed on them and they are cut off from active engagement. Different sets of people react differently to people who lose vision later in life. Some people completely exclude the visually impaired people from all social activities. Some of these people are driven to suicide or even allegedly murdered because of their worthlessness as perceived by family and close community. Yet others end up over-protective around such members which impacts their dignity and self-worth.”
Prem Prakash a late blind person said: “I lost eye sight in an accident after which I didn’t get proper medical or rehabilitation advise for some time. I had a horrible few months and then I went for training but I’m still unemployed. I also experienced problems in the way family and friends responded to me after losing my vision. People with blindness don’t need anyone’s sympathy they simply need support to continue leading their lives like anyone else.”
Said Shalini Khanna Director National Association for Blind- Center for Blind Women (NAB-CBW): “People who turn blind at a later age experience a psychological trauma which the caretakers family even medical fraternity is not educated enough to address. There is a need to work towards raising awareness and equipping these groups so adult blind can actually live their lives rather than turning into vegetables.”
The discussions concluded with an agreement to create more opportunities for adult blind people so that they can continue to lead independent lives with dignity. General Secretary of National Association for Blind Delhi (NAB Delhi) Prashant Verma said “NGOs need to collectively develop a model programme to deal with midlife blindness perhaps a three-month programme that will offer specific training for the said age group.”
Sanjaya Pradhan Head-Affirmative Action Industry Partnership & CSR National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) agreed “A lot more needs to be done in the adult blind space. NSDC has created a new programme called IDEA- Inclusion of Divyangjan Entrepreneurs Association so that disabled people can be trained to start their own businesses rather than simply depend on identified jobs.”
Conclusions: All participants agreed on the following areas that need work in order to address challenges of midlife blindness
- Proper data needs to be gathered on midlife blindness. Arman Ali Executive Director National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) said: “NGOs need to lobby for a census specifically for persons with disabilities.”
- Medical fraternity needs to be sensitized so they can redirect cases of late blindness to rehabilitation programmes
- More psychological resources need to be created to address trauma attached to late blindness
- Critical need to create skilling and training programmes specially designed for the middle aged visually impaired keeping in mind their education and employment background
- Awareness raising programmes targeted towards family peers employers government officials caretakers etc.