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Saturday, 5 December 2015

Losing sight but not her vision for others

The energy, enthusiasm and excitement that Jidnyasa Chawaldhal exudes are infectious. Being visually impaired does not come in the way of what she aspires to do and achieve. "I live by the motto, be the change you want to see in the society," says the 45-year-old who lost her sight at the age of 18 to a disease retinitis pigmentosa. 

Those were the days when being a music teacher or a musician was among the few options open to the visually impaired. "But I wanted to do something that would make me independent and capable of getting a job," she says. She started working with slow learners in Mayflower school just to understand the difficulties of the handicapped. "I also passed the Yoga Praveen exam and got a diploma in Reiki Masters and Naturopathy," she says. What followed was teaching yoga postures to the physically handicapped children, working with psychiatrist Dr Shailesh Pangaonkar in a project for children with scholastic backwardness and finally setting up a holistic healing centre for patients at Avanti Institute of Cardiology. "I did reiki for patients and taught them exercises that were part of their rehabilitation programme. Many patients would first think what could a blind person do for them. Others would get inspired by my work," she says.

But her true calling was working for visually impaired and she joined Akhil Bharatiya Drushtiheen Kalyan Sangh as a founder member. "I travelled across the state creating awareness about avoidable blindness and eye donation through street plays, songs and motivational speeches." Constrained by the fact that she was unable to compile data like names and references of people she was meeting, Jidnyasa decided to make herself tech enabled. Just doing a course in MS-CIT was not sufficient. "My brother insisted that I learn MS Office that was designed especially for the visually impaired and the blind at Bangalore. This was a game changer for me." Amazed at the wonderful software that opened so many vistas in terms of making her employable, she decided to return to Nagpur and make use of this knowledge to empower others like her.

Her first stint in computer training was at Baba Amte's ashram at Anandvan, where she got an opportunity to set up an IT training centre and English language school to train people with all kinds of disabilities. It was through her efforts that state government for the first time started computer courses for the blind.

 Marriage and motherhood brought her back to Nagpur where she floated an NGO Atmadeepam Society to enhance her scope of work. "At Atmadeepam we impart mobility training, independent living skills, kitchen skills, learning to put signatures and family life education. We are also teaching MS-CIT, MS Office and Tally courses," she informs.

"So far around 600 students have benefited from these initiatives. "There is 1% reservation for visually challenged people in government jobs. It is just that there are not many qualified to take them," she says. What is also remarkable is that the courses are conducted by students trained by Jidnyasa. "Even those who lost their vision midlife and had to give up their jobs are taking training here and have been able to find employment again."

To also help those pursuing academic courses, her NGO has set up a Reader Writers club at Ambedkar College. "This is important as many blind persons are not able to write exams or complete their studies for want of a reader or writer. Now I am pursuing this issue with the vice-chancellor of NU to help set up such a club in the university," she says.

Source : TOI , 26th Nov 2015 

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