Tiffany Brar, a disability rights advocate, aims to empower the visually impaired. With her relentless spirit, her foundation Jyothirgamaya Foundation has transformed countless lives, driving towards a more inclusive India
New Delhi: “Everyone should feel valued. We simply need some accommodations,” says Tiffany Brar, a disability rights advocate and founder of the Jyothirgamaya Foundation, a mobile blind school, located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Ms Brar has proven that blindness is not a barrier, and she is on a mission to help those with visual impairments become independent and self-reliant. As part of that mission, the Jyothirgamaya Foundation organised an ‘echolocation workshop’, a first for them.
The workshop, and indeed the foundation itself, arose from Tiffany’s own experiences of exclusion and discrimination due to her disability. Sharing her personal experiences, she said,
“Because I saw blind people, most of us were taught to have low confidence. I mean, our parents would say, “nahi, nahi, nahi, udhar mat jaana, gir jaoge (don’t go over there, you will fall”. I think the first words I learnt were ‘no, no, no’, because I heard my parents say that.”
During the workshop, blind participants learned how to use sound to perceive their surroundings, a technique called echolocation. This skill combined with cane techniques for navigating busy roads and in parks, enables the visually impaired to identify objects solely by their echoes.
The workshop is just one component of the varied and multi-utility vocational training that Ms Brar and her team provide. She said,
“Here we train visually impaired individuals in mobility orientation, computers and use of Android, iPhones, Windows, Linux, interpersonal skills and English. It’s a four to six month-full-fledged training course.”
Tony Kurein, a participant, said,
“I had heard about Echolocation, and I thought I should check it out. That’s when I came to know that Jyothirgamaya is organising this workshop. I wanted to give it a try so that I become more independent, because being independent is what I value the most.”
Our outdoor spaces – roads, pavements, markets, offices, malls – are not designed keeping accessibility and mobility in mind. People with low or no vision face risks of getting seriously injured while crossing streets or navigating roads with potholes and ditches. And the injuries aren’t always just physical. Tiffany Brar said,
“These kinds of things really affect us mentally like should we walk on the road or should we not? Now, people like Tony and me and a few other people would say, “Okay, we’ll continue, we’ll walk, we’ll do whatever it takes but we need to get there.” There are many people who are closeted inside the four walls of their house who don’t know mobility.”
It is for these people confined to their homes that Tiffany and her team seek to create an environment conducive to learning and growth. For almost 7 crore Indians living with blindness, adapting to a world that doesn’t adapt to their specific needs is a daunting task. However, these barriers aren’t just physical. Emphasising on the need for both physical and attitudinal changes, Ms Brar said,
“Beyond infrastructure, there’s an attitude barrier. People should be made to feel useful and valuable just like anyone else. We just need some adaptations.”
A born fighter, Tiffany Brar has refused to let her disability either define her or limit her. Through the Jyothirgamaya Foundation, she has helped train and empower countless blind people, earning her awards, accolades and recognition.
Ms Brar wants this degree of independence and self-belief for all blind people in India. This workshop is just the beginning. With sensitisation and thought combined with sustained action, our everyday spaces will truly open up for people with disabilities.
Samarth by Hyundai in partnership with NDTV, is an initiative that seeks to promote inclusivity, change perceptions, and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.