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Judith Fernandes writes about how this unique organisation is working to make life easier for the visually challenged and ensure that they become contributing members of society
It all began one day in 1982 when a group of blind people decided to organise a one-day special workshop on social problems relating to employment, marriage, etc, for the blind. The workshop was a success and the group—Dr Rajendra Vyas, Rajnikant Mehta, Subash Dattarange and others—decided to formalise and broaden the activity—taking up issues relating to the blind community under the Blind Graduates Forum (BGF). The founders were all blind graduates who shared common issues such as scarce employment opportunities for the educated. In 1986, BGF was registered as a not-for-profit entity with the Mumbai Charity Commissioner with the objective to fulfil the aspirations of the blind, to spread awareness about their abilities, to strategise effective solutions on everyday problems faced because of disability and to develop soft skills and leadership to ensure that they become contributory members of society.
Over the years, this objective was well fulfilled and, by 1985, it became apparent that the Forum should have a national profile, so it changed its name to the Blind Graduates Forum of India (BGFI). In January 1985, Usha Saran became BGFI’s first president. Harish Kotian, who is the current president, says that one of their key objectives was to become a spokesperson or ambassador for the blind and to work towards all-round development of the visually challenged and to give them a voice in law and policy formation and its implementation.
Mahendra Galani, another founder member, says BGFI holds monthly lectures by prominent speakers, competitions and demonstrations of newer adaptive equipment for the blind (such as ultrasonic glasses for safer mobility), etiquette and grooming sessions and hypnotherapy, to promote self-development and increase awareness. He says that organising unique activities and events for BGFI has increased his own self-confidence tremendously. He says, Walk to Win, organised in December 1986 was made into a Film’s Division documentary called Yashyatra and helped spread awareness about BGFI’s activities in rural India as well.
A few years ago, BGFI came up with a broad range of suggestions for inclusion in the new draft of Disabilities Bill. This included setting up a disability disputes redressal forum to decide disability rights cases, at the district, state and national level; to clearly stipulate rules for human assistance (like scribes) during exams for the visually challenged and many more.
BGFI has also been taking up issues relating to transport problems and how indiscriminate digging up of pavements without any safety barricades endangers the visually challenged. A BGFI team also offered shramdaan and filled up a stretch of incomplete pavement abandoned by civic staff at Sion (Mumbai) generating substantial media attention. This was followed up by a public interest litigation filed in the Bombay High Court in 1992 on the condition of roads.
On 16 May 2012, Moneylife Foundation organised a meeting with the IRDA chairman J Hari Narayan, at which the Blind Graduates Forum requested the insurance regulator to issue a circular to all insurance providers clearly instructing them not to discriminate against persons with disabilities, especially those with low vision. They also pointed to the discrimination by Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). Similarly, at another Moneylife Foundation event, they met the Chief Election Commissioner Dr SY Quraishi and presented a memorandum on the difficulties faced by blind persons in voting booths and dealing with electronic voting machines.
Interestingly, Mr Galani says, BGFI is not very concerned about donations (although they enjoy tax exemption under Section 80G) because they are more focused on specific projects and activities which they fund through sponsorships. This ensures support and empathy rather than sympathy; it also ensures that the donors know that their money is being utilised correctly and transparently. BGFI prefers donations in kind rather than
Blind Graduates Forum of India
J W Road, Parel East, Mumbai – 400012
Email: [email protected]