At Mitra Jyoti’s computer education centre, I was first asked to look at a young man named Mukesh’s computer screen. As I watched keenly, he typed out the words “Welcome to Mitra Jyoti.” I smiled at the gesture as his instructor gave him a pat on his shoulder accompanied by a “Good job!” Quite a compliment for a seemly easy task, right? Well, not really. As Mukesh, like several others like him in that computer education center, is visually impaired. For him to operate a computer and type out sentences independently is indeed an achievement.
A large part of the achievement is possible thanks to JAWS – a software designed especially for the visually-impaired that helps them read off as well as type into a computer screen independently. The rest attributable to the tireless efforts of Madhu Singhal, founder and managing trustee of Mitra Jyothi and her team, to provide training in JAWS and the like, to visually-impaired people like Mukesh.
Founded in 1990 by Madhu, who herself is visually-challenged, Mitra Jyothi’s mission is “to inspire and enable the visually-impaired.” Inspire them to be part of mainstream society and enable them to do the same. In this endeavor, the organisation offers a host of facilities and services. All of which are a result of a need/gap that the organisation faced when helping a beneficiary coupled with learnings from difficulties/challenges that Madhu herself faced.
Like the Talking book library. Established in 1992, the talking book library is Mitra Jyoti’s first and most significant project. It was started to cater to the general reading and educational needs of visuall-impaired students in schools and colleges. By converting print books into audio cassettes and CDs, the library makes these available for them. Mostly done with the help of volunteers (of all age groups), books are recorded in fiction, non-fiction and textbooks in various languages. Membership at the library is for a minimal fee, no matter what the age group or and socio-economic background of the member.
With over 1,350 members that include around 37 educational institutes, this library clearly plays an important role in enabling the visually-impaired to attain knowledge and information through books. Members may select from their collection and send in special requests too. Infact, as their team shared, pre-exam time is when they get the most requests – from school and college students who want textbooks of particular subjects to prep for the upcoming exams!
Their Job Placement Cell that was set up to help the visually challenged find meaningful employment opportunities too. Especially graduates from their computer training programmes, whom the organisation has helped get placed in well-known software companies, like TCS, Cisco and IBM, where they are earning approximately Rs. 25,000 a month.
Another important programme is the Training for Independent Living Skills that is aimed at women in the age group of 18 to 35 years. This is a residential training program aimed at making trainees self-reliant and independent. So, participants are imparted mobility-training (like crossing roads, travelling alone in buses and trains, shopping etc.), home-management including cooking and cleaning, personal health and hygiene, crafts, etc.
There’s also a hostel facility on their campus, to help the economically deprived and/or destitute among the visually impaired. As well as a Braille Transcription centre where books required by visually impaired students are converted into Braille.