Carving Future Through Technology- White Print
‘When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the calmest. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on’says LL Cool J.
That is certainly what a Sushmeetha B. Bubna, a resident of Mumbai did. After having lost her vision, the courageous lady took on a new life and now stands as a guide, teacher, support and role model to many. 14 years ago, the lady started Voice Vision, an NGO that trains the visually impaired in computers and empowers the community in her own way. We speak to Sushmeetha as she celebrates her 14th anniversary by organizing a Salsa dance and theatre workshop.
What was your aim behind initiating the National Award winning NGO, Voice Vision?
Our work involves empowering visually impaired people through integrated programs to be independent, attain dignity and ultimately build a more inclusive world. We have been enabling visually impaired with the help of technology since April 2000. Our goal has been to facilitate interaction between visually impaired, their families and society, to help them realise their dreams and to promote social inclusion. We believe in making the world a place where blindness is not a handicap, but a mere inconvenience.
Did any personal experience motivate you to start this NGO?
When I lost my vision to a great extent, I enrolled in a rehabilitation course and learnt vocational trades like candle making, broom-making and cycle repairing. However, I couldn’t accept the thought that losing one’s sense of the body meant losing one’s dignity and respect. I started exploring new avenues, came to know about accessible aids for computers and hence, started learning computers on my own with zero knowledge. With the desire to learn it more professionally, I approached a few training institutes in the vicinity. However, I found that no one was ready to train a blind person, so decided to start an institute the day I learn. Hence, after learning myself, I started teaching others.
You started the organization 14 years ago. How would you describe your personal journey? What challenges did you face when you decided to bring Voice Vision together?
My journey was difficult but satisfying and happy. I got the name, fame and personal identity, along with an immense satisfaction of giving back to the society and helping someone smile or think differently. In the initial stages, I sought support from other NGOs but got to see their negative approach towards the innovative idea of blind using computers. I was told, ‘In India, blind do not have enough to eat, are you mad, you will teach them computers?’
With God’s grace, students did come to me for learning computers and the numbers kept multiplying. Hiring faculty is a challenge as the sighted don’t find this job to have a bright future while blind find it an unsecured job. One seeks this faculty job only if he or she is not able to do any other job. I am currently facing the challenge of raising funds.
What have been Voice Vision’s achievements when it comes to the welfare of the visually impaired?
Through computer training, Voice Vision could make a small difference in students’ lives, as using this single tool, they could attain new heights and lead a dignified life. For instance, when our first student joined our course, he was studying and his family was not financially capable to pay our fees. But today, he is working in an MNC firm as a senior HR manager and has completed his MBA from TISS. 75% of our students are well placed and doing excellent in their respective fields. They are MBA, CA, physiotherapist, entrepreneurs, working in Banks, language translator, trainer, etc.
What are the biggest hindrances that you face while working for the community?
The community praises you a lot, treats you with great respect and pride and trusts you. But individuals who are earning still feel uncomfortable to pay for any training or workshop for the community. The attitude of getting everything free needs to be changed and one needs to realise that to get something valuable and worthy, one needs to always pay.
What kind of government support do you expect? What should be done for the betterment of the community?
Till date, the organisation has been self-funded by the founder. The government should give disabled persons equal and enough rights to learn, earn and lead a dignified life.
What led to the thought of holding workshops and entertainment sessions for the visually impaired?
After eight years of imparting computer training, we realised that this is not enough. A lot needs to be taught, ranging from basic and personal care to knowing one’s legal right and also, the knowledge of socialising, developing oneself, personal safety and ways to help others. We started the Knowledge Sessions section, which not only gave information on various important topics, but also a platform to interact and make friends. Parents also came together and formed a group, where they shared their strengths and weaknesses. All these sessions gave people something to take away and also helped strengthen the bonds between participants. Entertainment is just one aspect of such sessions.
How does the visually impaired community react to the commercial means of entertainment? Do you see enthusiasm or are they reluctant especially with a dance form like salsa or an art like theatre?
Their reluctance is not specifically to salsa dance or any special form, or theatre. They are apprehensive of exploring new things, especially when asked to pay for the same. We did charge Rs. 300 for both the workshops along with food etc. We would have had many more participants coming if it was done free of cost. But all the participants who came, were seriously interested and enthusiastic about exploring new things. They had a great fun and learnt a lot from both the workshops.
Do you see a bend towards the western forms of dance and not just the traditional singing and dancing within the visually impaired community?
Young persons with visual impairment really wish to explore new avenues. They are not keen in getting into the traditional singing as their career.
We noticed a matrimonial section on your website. How does it work?- Share your experiences with people who got married through your organization.
In this module one can come and register his/her profile on the website, irrespective of being disabled or not. They can send their interests and take their relationships further. To facilitate this further, we have already organised two get--togethers across disability where we facilitated prospects to meet, know and interact with individuals of their interest. Till date, we haven’t got any success story of candidates marrying each other. Yet, we feel creating a platform itself – where one can come and interact – is necessary and an important step towards the goal of marriage.
What are your observations about the society’s views on a sighted person marrying a visually impaired person?
In our first get-together, we discussed scenarios where a disabled would be marrying another with the same disability or some other disability person or an able person. It was discussed and concluded that no situation is perfect, as each situation has its own pros and cons that can be overcome only by facing and tackling the problems. It was also brought out that one needs to focus on one’s strengths and weakness, and also see the same in the other person rather than matching the disabilities, match the abilities. We also learnt that even parents of disabled persons wish to seek a caretaker for their kids, rather than look for a life partner. Many a times, parents are more confused and depressed with the thought of marrying their child.
Congratulations on celebrating 14 years and spreading so much happiness. Tell us something about the event. How did you plan it and what was the response?
From last year we were trying to conduct this workshops, but somehow the trainers’ timing weren’t matching with ours. We planned this event as usual, a month ago. The response was good, but lots of persuasion was required to get participants enrolled (that is the case for any workshop irrespective of topic, time, fees etc.). We had 24 participants from Delhi, Mazgaon,Vashi, Vasai etc, attending the workshops
Are there employment opportunities for the community that could be shared in the magazine?
We have vacancies in our NGO, a computer faculty job. Anyone interested can get in touch with us.
What are the future plans for this NGO?
We wish to take our knowledge sessions like First Aiders and Sexuality and Intimacy along with the matrimonial program across the country. We seek collaborating opportunities with various local NGOs working for the visually impaired community.