Esha: Braille Cards, Workshops and more – Empowering The Visually Impaired

How many of us can tell who has entered the room based on the way they walk or smell? How many of us can walk into our office blindfolded? And yet we think that blind people are disabled.

Esha, a non-profit initiative is working to help the blind realize and utilize their potential by designing innovative ways of sustainable livelihood. Also ,they do workshops to sensitize the non-blind towards the special skills and needs of the blind.

As of now Esha has 5 small enterprise providing sources of livelihood to the blind:

Braille Cards: Braille enabled visiting cards are standard cards with your name embossed in Braille. The brailling is done for a rupee per card and can be done on your existing cards. The money made on each card goes directly to the blind.

Braille Enabled Greeting Cards:The blind usually do not get greeting cards. If you know someone who is visually impaired, send them a Braille greeting card. Esha has both options – all Braille or normal greeting card with Braille.

Theatre Workshops: Primarily in schools and offices. The aim of the workshop is to make the participants aware of the gift they have (gift of sight) and be a little more sensitive to special needs of the differently-abled.

Tactile Maps: A tactile map is a map that can be read by touch. A tactile map of the layout of your building/office ensures that a blind person is able to find his way around without being escorted.

Accessibility Audit and Consulting : Auditing organizations to ensure that their premise is accessible to the blind and advising them to make the required changes.

Here’s an interview with Nidhi Arora, an IIMC alumnus and founder of Esha.

How did the idea of Esha come about?

I have been working with the blind since 1994. The idea of Esha evolved slowly, as one realized here were some unmet challenges in the world of the blind. We started as a mail order book store for the blind, and in 2006, directed attention to finding revenue streams for the blind. What set Esha apart was the thought that we will not just create contract workers, we will create entrepreneurs. We will develop services and products that the blind can create/deliver. Using these, it should be possible for the beneficiary to lead a life of dignity – with financial independence. So all our products have to pass the market test of potential earnings of 10,000 a month or more. If the service does not have that kind of demand, we do not pursue it. One of the products we abandoned was bookmarks, because we realized that selling 1000 bookmarks a month was not possible with our limited marketing reach.

Very recently, in August 2011, we started the CLABIL project – Central Library of Audio Books in Indian Languages. This project aims to bring free audio books in Indian languages to all the blind children across the country. Using an early intervention program, we will work with the children to ensure that listening to stories for pleasure is a habit inculcated early. We will be giving every child a personal mp3 player with SD cards, so that the library can be refreshed by them on need basis. It’s the biggest project of its kind in India.

Tactile Maps

Braille cards in a very novel concept in India. What has been the general response towards it?

Very, very good. When we started, people appreciated the concept, but did not see the practical utility of it. They argued that no blind person is likely to see their card. It took some time to convince them that the reason the blind will not see this card is the reason they MUST get Braille on their cards. We have successfully and completely isolated the blind from our growth story.

The other, and more important thing is that Braille on your cards makes a statement – about you as a person, and the organisation. Braille enabled cards are a great ice breaker, they make a fantastic first impression, and they are a very visible statement of being inclusive. A Braille card is worth way, way more than the 1 rupee that the person pays for it.

Almost everyone who tried Braille cards has repeated the orders. They have spoken about the benefits with their organisations, and today, a lot of our clients acknowledge that Braille on their cards gets them brownie points with their clients, and helps them break ice and start conversation on a good note even if the situation is otherwise difficult.

Today, most of our orders are automatic. We have never had the money or resources to advertise. Always, all our orders have come through reference, but repeat orders, and so many of them, indicate that people are really getting value out of the service. We think that’s good. Because its not about charity. That service was priced at a nominal cost of 1 re. per card only because we wanted people to see that what they get out of this card is way more than the one rupee that they pay for it.

What basic policy recommendations would you suggest to make public places and govt. offices more blind-friendly>

1. The Copyright Act should be amended to make it possible for the blind to access audio and braille copies of the book. The US Copyright Act already has this provision, so long as the copy is used only for the benefit of the blind. I really think that we need this change in india too.

2. Accessibility Audit, tactile maps and Accessibility ranking should be done and displayed at the entrance of all public use buildings, so that a disabled person (with any disability) can know upfront what to expect and what to prepare for inside the building. We understand that all buildings will have different levels of accessibility. All that we ask is that an audit should be conducted for all public buildings at the time of completion, and the accessibility index should be displayed at the entrance.

Do qualified Blind professionals get the same opportunities as other people in the corporate sector? What is Esha’s role in this?

It is obvious that they do not. A lot of good organizations are working towards making the blind employable and employed in the corporate sector. We are in the business of creating blind entrepreneurs. Not employees. Our beneficiaries are independent, they work flexi-time, they do their own invoicing, and they collect their own payments.

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