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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Visually-impaired, but this man doesn’t lack vision - Panaji ( Goa )

He eats the same food as you, does his routine activities just as you do, and lives his life pretty much the same way as you. The only difference being the darkness that shrouds his eyes.

Taha Haaziq has been visually-impaired for most of his life. But over the years, he has not only overcome his own weakness but is also contributing in his own way to improve the day-to-day lives of people like him.

Now 30, Haaziq currently works at the state central library in Panaji. In this role, he spreads awareness about the latest assistive technologies that can be availed of by the differently-abled community.

But life has not always been so easy for Haaziq. When he was two years old, he was detected with Retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe impairment or blindness. Back then, Haaziq was living in Mumbai with his family.

He was admitted to a special school. But quickly noticing young Taha's extraordinary potential for learning and insatiable hunger for knowledge, his family admitted him to a regular school "Children would often tease me or play pranks because I was different from them," Haaziq tells STOI. "But I continued to go to school," he continues resolutely.

When he was ten years old, the Haaziq family moved to Goa. Taha began attending the Jesuit-run St Britto's high school in Mapusa. Later, he studied Hindustani classical music at the Goa College of Music.

He spoke to STOI about his extraordinary academic journey. "In school, I had some vision with which I could read if the light was bright. When that was no longer possible, I would ask people to read to me." He credits those who tried to make his life easier. "My teachers were very helpful and supportive," he says. "In college, friends would record notes which I would then learn by rote. A writer would be arranged to physically write the exam for me."

After college, he attended various courses in assistive technology to develop his skills. He also worked for the National Association for the Blind (NAB), Goa, as a computer and voice trainer till 2012. In 2014, he moved to his current position at the Central Library.

Haaziq readily admits that his knowledge of Braille is minimal. "I am more comfortable with technology," he says. "I am immensely privileged compared to visually-impaired people in the previous decade. People earlier used traditional methods of teaching and many still continue to do so. Today, we have the technology to live normally but not many visually-challenged people are exposed to it. For those who are, technology is helping them through phones, computers and softwares."

When Haaziq is free, he constantly tests gadgets and apps that could help improve his life. He is well-versed with technology and social media, and keeps himself updated with the help of apps and websites. The Screen Reader installed on his computer and phone automatically reads out content on the screen for him.

But learning, he believes, is a continuous process. He has 92 apps on his phone that help him discover something new every day. Out of these, he names his favourites — Bluemail, an email application. TapTapSee, a camera application designed specifically for the visually impaired iOS users. And Be My Eyes, an iPhone app that connects visually-impaired people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat.

Haaziq's latest finding is the SmartCane device, an electronic travel aid developed by IIT, Delhi, which fits on the top fold of the regular walking cane. It actively detects obstacles thus keeping him constantly notified about impending objects. In simple words, the SmartCane vibrates every time he is close to an object. This helps him in preventing unwanted contact and grants him safe mobility.

At the Central Library, Haaziq has plans to introduce assistive technologies like magnifiers to enlarge print and other softwares for people with locomotive disabilities, dyslexia and physical disorders to learn better. This, he believes will usher in a new kind of change in the attitudes of people.

"Everything is possible provided space is given to a differently-abled person," he stresses. "Society plays a very important role in building and shattering confidence. That's why we need people to be empathic instead of sympathetic."

Source: TOI , 22nd March 2015 

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