Live, Love, Laugh (Part 2) – About Voice Vision

Written By

Lakshmi A

Sushmeetha Bubna Voice Vision Loading

(Contd. from Live, Love, Laugh (Part 1))

We started Voice Vision in April 2000, as a project of Basudeo Bubna Memorial Trust, with the intent of empowering people with visual impairment through teaching computers. We saw that there was a gap in the market for training these people for this skill set. Due to a disability, people with an impairment in one of their senses have a highly developed other sense. Our logic was that if we tapped into the heightened sense, then we can identify great jobs where they can excel. These need not be limited to candle making, broom making, cycle repairing, caning the chairs etc.

Voice Vision stands for the values of Independence, Inclusion, and Dignity. We at Voice Vision believe that the world is a place where blindness is not a disability, but a mere inconvenience.

The boat was not always smooth sailing. To start off with, I had to teach myself computers with the help of ‘help’ menus and a few tutorial cassettes. We started with only computer training classes within an empty space available in our family business office itself and 2 computers as the basic infrastructure for these classes. We then added a website designing course for which my friend from the USA flew down to train our students in this skill.

Designing the course curriculum was a tough task. Deciding what to include and what not to was very difficult. I had no prior professional experience in teaching or designing a course, neither was any standardised course curriculum available. Based on an industry survey of most commonly used software programs, I chose major components as windows, word, excel, the internet as a source of knowledge and outlook express. We have now reformatted this and have short professional course modules of 10 hours each.

In order to reach out to people with visual impairment, we contacted a few leading organisations. However, we did not receive any cooperation, as these organisations did not believe that people with visual impairment could be taught to handle computers.

Knowledge, when provided free, is not valued. We charge nominal fees from our students to cover basic expenses and also to ensure they are serious about this commitment. However, financial assistance is provided to deserving students and they are not turned away. Our first student was a junior college student with hardly any money to pay our fees. It gives us great pleasure that today he is working in an MNC as a senior HR Manager, handling new employee induction and various other training programs pan India for the organisation.

While conducting the computer training, we realised that only knowledge of computers is not enough. There were so many other areas which needed enhancement.

This prompted us to further probe – what are the other main challenges that people with any disability face. We realised that primarily there was a huge mental block. As soon as the society sees a person with a disability, they either sympathise with them or crack jokes at them. The infrastructure in Indian cities does not provide for people with disabilities to live independently easily as well.  Even parents often feel that the life of their child is valueless.

Family support and economic status are huge deciders of the path people of disability chose. People with visual impairment are kept away from normal school and maths and science classes from grade 7 itself. Due to this, they are clueless of basics of human body anatomy, math, science, English language, sex and sexual harassment and mobility. After missing out on these basic life skills, their personality takes a beating and matrimony and access to funds for entrepreneurship become a huge challenge. So, we put together a short term and long term plan to execute these ideas.

To strengthen the parental support, we started programs to help the parents of people with disability. It became like a support group, in which we also changed the perception of the parents and made them realise that the sky is the limit for these children too.

For 13 years, this business was backed financially by our family business. When it was time to scale up, we brought it under the jurisdiction of the trust to to seek external funding. Today, after almost 17 years of our inception, our hard work is beginning to pay off. We recently got covered in London on London’s Channel 4, on a program called “India’s Blind dates“. We received several awards for the work we are carrying out.

We conducted our matrimonial program for the fourth time last year in Mumbai, with the generous help of The Golden Leaf Banquet Hall, Rotary Club of West Coast, Lions Club of Malad & Borivli, Rotractors of Saraf and Mithibai College, Volunteers from SNDT and Welingkar Management College, Silver Innings, Ascent Networks Pvt. Ltd and other individuals.

These last four get-togethers resulted in 3 marriages. The highlight, I believe, is that this included one with a mindset change, where a male with low vision married a girl with total blindness. Parents are now hopeful of their children with disabilities being happily married to someone who understands them, and accepts them for who they are. Through our programs, we have helped people make new bonds of friendship for life and helped people evaluate what they really are looking for in a life partner. From here on, the way is only upwards!

We are constantly re-evaluating our plans, to ensure that we are in sync with the market trends in skillsets. Our focus is currently on The Entrepreneurial idea award, Across-disability India Wide Matrimonial get-together and Computer training along with skill training programs. Our upcoming events are all easily accessible and catalogued here.

Our programs are broken down into 3 main modules:

1. Practical Education 

Computer Training

Personality Test

English Training

Reader Writer

Scholarship

2. Professional Skills Enhancement:  

Entrepreneurial Idea Award

3. Life Skills 

Knowledge Sessions

Matrimonial

Parents Support Group

How can you help:
Every person in the society can help bring about a change with baby steps. Together, these steps will help all people with disabilities to live a normal life. Some of the ways, big and small are by:
  1. Creating awareness about our organisation – Help us through your networks to reach out to more and more individuals.
  2. Connecting us to any person with a disability known to you
  3. Enabling us to find funders and sponsors
  4. Enabling us to find funders or loan providers for the phase 2 participants of our Entrepreneurial Idea Award
  5. Joining hands with us and supporting us to grow, may be as advisors, volunteers, subject matter experts
  6. Volunteering to help us with our digital endeavours, especially social media marketing etc.
  7. Enabling us to build our network by connecting us with your local NGO’s working for people with various disabilities, for our across matrimonial get-together
  8. Introducing us to your relevant department if you work with a corporate that is equipped to hire a disabled person
  9. Getting us on board to conduct workshops at your company, to sensitise employees to create an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities
  10. Volunteering to help us organise events (like matrimonial get together) in your city

If you are wondering how a person with a visual disability can work in your organisation, or you have any other query about Voice Vision, please reach out to us at:

Voice Vision (www.voicevision.in) (Project of the Basudeo Bubna Memorial Trust)

Email: sushmeetha@voicevision.in 

Facebook www.facebook.com/voicevisionfans

Work Phone: +91 22 40400000

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lakshmi Ananthamurthy, almost 40, is the founder and CEO of Siya. She is the Jack-of-all-trades, master of none and has dabbled in Music, Travel, Reading, Sudoku while working in senior level corporate positions across the globe. She is the mother of two young children, who keep her active but not enough to help her lose her baby weight. She tries hard to not take herself too seriously, and is seriously working at it.

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