While there are many schools for educating blind people, very few equip them with the skills that would enable them to become a part of the mainstream society and contribute to the economy of the country. Mitra Jyothi, a 26-year-old organisation based in Bangalore, works exclusively on this issue.
According to them, there are an estimated 45 million blind people in the world, out of which one in three live in India. This would mean around 15 million blind people across the country.
Uma Krishnamurthy, the Chief of Operations at Mitra Jyothi, spoke to us about how the organisation functions and how they hope to make reading more accessible to the visually impaired.
They run various programmes to empower blind people; one such notable initiative is the Computer Training Centre. They train around twenty students per batch, and start out with basic instructions on how to operate a keyboard or monitor. From this, they gradually move on to sending emails and simple text editing and eventually the usage of Microsoft Office Products . Students from all over the sub-continent live in dormitories during the six-month long programme. Uma says, “Learning these skills helps them become a part of the workforce with so much ease.”
Another admirable initiative taken up by Mitra Jyothi is a talking book library, which opened twenty years ago. The primary objective of the library is to store and supply audiobooks, which have been converted to recordings from printed books, by volunteers. The audiobooks are in the Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY), which is the standard system of navigating through audio files for people with visual impairment. She explained further, “We make audio CDs in DAISY format out of books and store them as master CDs. We have a library catalogue available online, people can call up our library and place an order for a particular audio book. We make a copy of the CD and post it to them.
If we do not have a book, we take an order and attempt to convert the books to DAISY format. Most of the time, members send us a physical copy of the book which we use, and this helps our library grow.”
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Their impressive collection has close to 3,000 books in English as well as four regional languages including Tamil and Hindi. A large number of the books are in Kannada, because a majority of their beneficiaries study in schools across Karnataka. They also provide audio books for students studying Economics and Psychology at the Masters level.
The Mitra Jyothi team decided to make reading more accessible to visually impaired people by collecting funds for publishing 30 braille books in Kannada. When we asked Uma why they picked the braille format when they already have a huge collection of audiobooks, she said, “We have around 7,500 primary beneficiaries who are currently using the audiobook service. But, the problem with audio books is that you have to have some exposure to digital media or need access to an audio player. The number of DAISY players given by the Indian Govt. as grants is very meager when one considers how many people require it. It is also important to keep in mind that DAISY players cost Rs. 11,000, hence not many people can afford them.”
Uma also stressed on the fact that all visually impaired children start learning and studying using only braille. She said, “The braille stylus and sheet are equivalent to our pen and paper. And only if children are financially well off do they get to access electronic media. To encourage reading among students, we need to give them books to read!”
With their braille books campaign, the organisation hopes to focus on children from the age of five to fifteen. Uma observed that in Karnataka, there are no books in braille for school children apart from textbooks, which are also most often delivered pretty late into the school year. She said, “Through a Government of India grant, we got two volume braille printing machines. So we decided to build small braille libraries in schools across Karnataka, with whom we have been working in the past that have partnered with us. We want to identify around three books per class or for various age groups, such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Panchatantra and and other age appropriate general reading material.”
The number of books that are sent out will be dependent on the funds that they receive. Mitra Jyothi has started a campaign in order to achieve this goal.
Donate here, to help more blind children read books that not just enable them to live fully but also let them lend their lives to fantasy.