Vision-Aid Blog

Insights from Vision-Aid's Directors and Volunteers

Anjali's Anecdotes

On a chilly winter morning this year, I woke up to deliver a virtual spoken English lesson, the first in a series of many, to a bunch of visually challenged students in the Vizag district of south India. I, along with a very able and competent team, had been working on this project for a couple months and we were very excited about this venture. 

I am a finance professional and have experience in designing and implementing communication and rehabilitation programs for students with special needs. When I moved to the US, I was looking for volunteer opportunities that could utilize my skills. And that is when on a lucky day, I met Ram.
Ramakrishna Raju, better known as Ram to us, is the founder of Vision-Aid and has perhaps been the most zealous and passionate individual I have ever come across. I remember the first time we spoke and he introduced me to Vision-Aid and the work they have done. I was, no doubt, impressed by the glorious achievements, but what fascinated me even more was the sheer enthusiasm that filled his voice when he talked about their mission and goals for these children. This encouraged me more and moved me to sign up in the November of 2015. I also really enjoyed meeting other members of the Vision-aid leadership team like Mr. Syed Ali Rizvi, as we started the early planning of the pilot. 

I was then introduced to the other members who were on board for the pilot spoken English lessons. Priscilena Shearon, based out of Tennessee is a qualified teacher with over 14 years of teaching experience which was a huge asset for our team. Together, we worked over the next 3 months, coming up with a beginner’s guide to the English language. Two important considerations defined our plan for the coming months: first, visual aids, which are often very effective in imparting important skills and lessons, could not be used; and two, the language barrier could make it seemingly impossible to get across what we wanted to say to the students. While the volunteers based out of US were very well equipped with the English language, the students in Vizag had no experience with English. Moreover, there was no common language for us to communicate in.
Our efforts would not have been possible without the excellent support staff in Vizag. Ms. Ramadevi Mangu is the teacher at the Vizag center of Vision-Aid. With her bilingual ability, she was able to ease the learning and comprehension process for these students, whose primary language is Telugu. Ms. Aruna, another junior staff member at the Vizag center, and Mr. Ramesh, the technical support, were also key players for our pilot to be a success. 

We started off with a basic evaluation to understand the level of each participant. I was anxious when we first kicked off; expectations are often high and the pilot session of the pilot program could have easily been a disaster. But the welcoming smiles and enthusiasm of the students dissipated all my fears. I eagerly looked forward to every session after that. In a span of 12 weeks which involved biweekly sessions, multiple Skype meetings, homework assignments, and supplementary resources, we were able to impart elementary spoken English skills to the students. The end of the program evaluation showed marked improvement in the level of each student. The pilot was a success but our journey had just started. We are now in the process of developing a comprehensive learning platform for spoken English for all centers of Vision-Aid with the goal of extending the benefits of the pilot far and wide.
I have been involved with students of all ages and backgrounds all my life, whether as an educator, a mentor, or a facilitator. It is always a gratifying experience when I realize that my meagre contribution could make someone better equipped. Working with Vision-Aid has been more special solely because of the students who made me put in my best to give them the best. 

It is not often that you find that the students you are trying to inspire end up inspiring you. In my attempt to make a difference at Vision-Aid, that is exactly what happened.

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From Berhampur with love!

From Berhampur with love!

The "Iconic Avatar" show is over! The dancers did such an AMAZING job – months of practice and commitment paid off! We can never thank them for what they did, but after the show we gave each dancer a small token of love from our blind students in Berhampur, India.

The incense sticks which you will find in the gift bags were hand made by blind students at our Vision-Aid partner in Berhampur, Odisha – where our partner Milton Charitable Foundation for the Visually Handicapped (MCFVH) offers a wide range of vocational skills training to visually impaired students. The pictures below  show how these were hand made. 

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An Exciting New Vision-Aid Program In 2016 Spoken English training for the visually impaired

An Exciting New Vision-Aid Program In 2016
 
Spoken English training for the visually impaired

Through our existing rehabilitation programs, Vision-Aid already empowers blind and low vision students with optical devices, technology and a variety of skills to help them live their lives with independence and dignity, including a comprehensive computer education curriculum with the use of assistive technologies.

To succeed in finding better employment prospects or higher education skills, Vision-Aid students need to speak and understand English. Mainstream education is geared for the sighted, relying on large classes, printed books, and visual cues which leave the visually impaired struggling to learn English.

In January 2016, Vision-Aid already concluded a successful pilot program training 10 visually impaired students and two teachers in the basics of spoken English.  We are now poised to expand this Spoken English in three levels – Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, to multiple locations. Training will be delivered in small classroom settings with individual attention. Teaching is delivered through both online technology (via the Vision-Aid Online Academy) and in-class teaching and instruction at Vision-Aid program locations.

We Thank all our supporters for making this possible!

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Beyond Samprati, Beyond Time

Mr. Ram Raju, Executive Director of Vision Aid USA

 The colorful memories from “Samprati, Beyond Time” will remain etched in our minds! While we will always continue to cherish them, the Vision-Aid team is already looking ahead to the next step!
 
 
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Vision-Aid 2015: Pallavi Nagesha's blog

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“Satyam Shivam Sundaram” The belief, that the greatest beauty is the absolute truth that reveals the divine within, is woven into the very fabric of an Indian existence.
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Vision-Aid 2014 Event - M.S.Raju's blog

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When we see a blind person, most of us feel sad, or we may think it is terribly unjust, or even feel a little guilt.

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Making inclusive education a reality

 

Studies have shown that 1 out of every 100 school kids has a visual impairment and needs special assistance..

 

Low vision conditions are not easy to detect and teachers (or even parents) may not notice the affliction till a chance eye-check-up reveals it. Meantime the impaired kids settle down to the bottom of the class, as under-performers in the classroom. 

Further, 1 out of every 200 school children is partially or totally blind. Such kids are more easily noticed but driven away by the system to often poorly equipped special schools, blind schools, or deprived of an education altogether, because mainstream teachers in the education system are under- equipped and not trained on how to handle such children.  

School teachers in India must either secure a Diploma in Education (D.Ed.) or a Bachelor or Education (Bed.) degree before teaching. Unfortunately less than 1 in 1000 B.Ed. /D.Ed. teachers are familiar with skills and techniques that will enable them to deal with visually impaired children.  Such teachers are not taught even basic skills in subjects like Access Technologies and Orientation & Mobility – subjects which are relatively simple to learn.

In a vast and populous country like India, only 15 colleges (Special Education B.Ed.) & 4 National institutions in this vast country attempt to make teacher trainees familiar with Access Technologies for visually impaired students. Though laudable, such schools are currently handling a relatively miniscule 600 teachers out of an estimated 600,000 teachers that India produces annually, to meet the demands of education nationally. Therefore only 1 in 1000 teachers get a chance to know how vision impaired in the class rooms can be handled.

Enter the newly launched Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA)

Through its simple and scalable model of training, by 2016, Vision-Aid through its new VOA initiative, is hoping to reach what the entire Indian Special Education system is doing today. The combination of innovation and virtual technology makes it scalable. Training is high tech, fast track ,short duration, focused, on-line and is capable of covering the country with great cost effectiveness.

The Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA) rollout involves the installation of “Virtual Stations” comprising all the required equipment (Hardware and Software) at a particular location. Virtual nodes can either be Teaching Virtual Station (TVS) – equipped to allow teachers to conduct live online classes or Student Virtual Station (SVS) – allowing students to learn interactively from remote teachers. So far we have established one TVS at Vizag and one SVS at Mangalore with our partner Seva Bharathi – to pilot the first online course at the Roman Catherine Lobo School for the blind.  This will be followed soon by one more SVS at Kolkata by the end of December 2014.

 

Each Teaching Virtual Station (TVS) has Tripod Camera projection and capable of supporting teaching by two teachers who can use the platform to conduct interactive live training.  The initial plan is to have teachers using the platform by rotation from Mon-Sat from 11:00-13:00 IST each day. Each student station also has a computer/monitor with a projection camera and speaker/microphone setup. It can seat 3 students. Live interactive classes are streamed via Vision-Aid's partner Gyanmantra’s EMC platform (based in New Delhi), at prefixed/appointed hours based on a pre-arranged schedule. It is expected that classes in a single session will go on for 2 weeks of interactive tuition. As the program evolves, it is expected to include comprehensive learning options including self-paced learning modules, and online testing/certification. Using these tools, in addition to live classes, students will also be required to complete appropriate levels of offline homework / preparation.

Prior to this new initiative, a Vision-Aid center typically trains 50 visually impaired students and 100 sighted teachers each year. Taking advantage of the power of online teaching methods and virtual learning, Vision-Aid is poised to increase the teachers volume to much larger scale, targeting to reach 600 school teachers in 2 years. For this, Vision-Aid has developed 2 certificate courses Administrator in Computer Applications (ACA) and Orientation and Mobility Training (O&M).  

We believe the Vision-Aid Online Academy (VOA) will be a game-changer in Indian inclusive education!

M.S. Raju

President

Vision-Aid India

 

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Nikita Minocha's Blog - Why I love being a part of Vision-Aid events

 

A picture of Nikita Minocha, a Vision Aid event performer.

Another year has passed and it is now my fourth time participating in the annual Vision Aid production. 

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Vision Aid 2014 Event – Sujatha Meyyappan's blog

 

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The first indication of a great summer starts when you begin check mark weekend after weekend with Dance / Arangetram invitations and Evites!  The most I look forward every year is the “VisionAid Fundraiser” which has become the premiere dance event of NewEngland.

 

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From Disability to Dignity

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Despite many great advances in eye care, Vision Impairment cannot be eliminated but with concerted efforts, we can wage a war on the disability caused by it, to bring a ray of light and hope, where darkness and despair prevailed before.  

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My Amazing Trip to Susrut

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I am back after a ten-day trip to Kolkata and finally over the jet lag to be able to write at length about my Susrut site-visit.  


One day after landing I visited a screening camp - the type Optometrist Avhijit Das and the low vision specialist at Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Center writes to us about. This was held at a government school in the greater Kolkata area. I met with the students, parents, guardians, and healthcare officials from both Susrut and the Government of West Bengal.  It was a great learning experience to observe Susrut's outreach effort in identifying and recruiting the vision-poor for further treatment and rehabilitation and Vision-Aid's role.

I saw a large number of school-age children from elementary to high school age with various levels of vision issues anywhere from requiring low-power reading glasses to the vision deprived. A few had very low vision, which could be rectified by surgery and/or appropriate visual aids.   Most of them, as it often happens in those circumstances, were enrolled in a School for the Blind and were conversant with Braille but not with traditional reading material. Testing with lights and shapes showed that they had some vision and could identify rudimentary shapes. 

Avhijit pointed out, these young people would receive treatment from Susrut and rehabilitation services courtesy Vision-Aid.  While it was sad to see children afflicted by any disability, it was nevertheless inspiring to see that the children were cheerful and chattering away like children do! What was even more heartening to see were the number of girls that were also being tested. Photographs from the visit testify.

I followed up with another trip, this time to the Susrut Institute and spent the greater part of the day visiting their various departments. They do have quite a bit of state-of-the-art equipment and innovative ways of testing children - a far cry from the doctors' offices of my childhood! There is a dedicated area for vision rehabilitation. I have asked Avhijit to send a photograph. (My cell phone camera did not work so I could not take any myself). The facilities are constantly swept and remarkably clean. 

However, the biggest drawback is that the facility is far from the city, closer to the airport actually, and not very easily accessible by public transportation.  

So Susrut, thanks mainly to Avhijit's effort along with Shib Sankar Bagchi’s blessings, and in partnership with the government, has taken the initiative of going to under-privileged areas around Kolkata to provide services and devices  - taking the services to the community as they phrase it.  The government has provided "resource rooms" for the challenged in some areas. However, the "resources" are lacking. This is where Susrut comes in to fill the void. With Vision-Aid's grant Susrut would like to furnish these resource rooms with appropriate equipment and materials to provide technology based and other rehabilitation services. It would serve these under-served communities and reach a wider targeted audience. To this end, I am forwarding Susrut's letter separately, which explains better how they would like to utilize Vision-Aid funds for providing the aid and services. A budget is also included. 

Avhijit and I also discussed following patients and writing up case studies. We went over some of the parameters. These conversations will continue both at Vision-Aid and Susrut in the coming months to see how we can work together on this important project.

 

Sreemoti

Director, Vision-Aid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enabling the Vision Disabled

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As the President of Vision Aid, nothing gives me more pleasure than to see a book such as "Enabling the Vision Disabled" being published and made available to the people who really need it.   

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