Blind Lead Trust (BLT) is our Shillong-based NGO, working for the empowerment and protection of young blind people.
BLT was formally established on 26 June 2018 as a public Trust, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is officially registered and certified in the state of Meghalaya via the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Office in Shillong, East Khasi Hills. We are also establishing partnerships with schools and NGOs across India with similar aims to support and empower Blind and differently-abled Indians.
BLT has the overarching mission to enable and empower young blind people through a range of educational, outreach, and assistive technology development initiatives. We strongly believe that young blind people can and should develop critical thinking and productivity skills that will enable them not only to live and work independently, but also to lead other young blind people toward the same.
After the organization had been registered, the two co-founder Jitendra Dkhar (Managing Trustee) and Dr.Theodore Moallem had prepared the small activities, on how to arrange and make them well organized for the organization. At the beginning Shri. Jitendra Dkhar had conducted self learning through the guidance of Dr.Theodore Moallem they tried to design the different material which is accessible for the Visually Impaired. This team work had started to proceed forward where Dr. Theodore Moallem had advised the Direction that there should be a Logo in any NGOs, these two had started to prepare in which way to design the logo for the organization, where Dr. Theodore Moallem had instructed Shri. Jitendra Dkhar designed the logo in the way he wanted it to be. Shri. Jitendra Dkhar had started to design the logo by using the MS wires and the copper on how to shape the logo. After he had done with it he himself along with Dr. Theodore Moallem had reviewed the design of the logo, he also explained the meaning of Logo forward he had shaped to Dr. Theodore Moallem, Dr. Theodore Moallem was satisfied with the explanation of the design of the logo. After Shri. Jitendra Dkhar had done the design Dr.Theodore Moallem had started to modify the logo into software.
Our BLT “fellows” are blind young people from poor tribal communities around Meghalaya, and roughly half of them have had little or no education before connecting with BLT. We are training them in a variety of skills, including English language, verbal communication, and usage of computers with screen reader software. Perhaps most importantly, we train them in the proficient use of Android mobile phones with the assistance of the in-built Android accessibility software, “TalkBack”, which enables
blind people like us to surf the Internet, and to use messaging apps, social media, and much more with the help of audio-tactile feedback. The TalkBack accessibility software works on all Android phones, even the older models. With proper training, it can dramatically improve the lives and future prospects of young blind people, giving them new opportunities for digital learning, networking, paying bills, finding doctors, and researching anything that interests them.
From the start of our BLT fellows program, we emphasize the notion that young blind people must believe in themselves and in each other. We must build our self confidence and we must support each other, because only the blind people can truly understand the blind experience. We must improve our critical thinking skills to make difficult life decisions. We must share our knowledge and understanding with each other, so that we can have some common understanding of the special challenges that we face every day in our lives.
BLT is also focused on enabling young blind people to get jobs and training that makes them employable. For example, our director helped a Jaintia blind man to get a clinic receptionist job in Shillong, where he was first trained to use their computer system with assistive software, and he now works all day on a computer, receiving full salary to support his family.
We are also working to spread throughout Meghalaya and the northeast of India (especially in the villages) a keen awareness of young blind people’s great potential for autonomy and achievement. This awareness must be instilled in sighted people as well as the blinds themselves.
We also take responsibility for increasing the awareness of those many people around us who have normal eyesight. The whole society, and especially those people who are having power or authority, must become more aware about blind people and their true capacities. They must understand that young blind people can learn and do so many things, and they must not be hindered by sighted people anymore. Sighted people must not judge the blind people as useless or helpless only because of blindness — such judgements are false. So many successful blind people are there in the cities in India and all around the world. At BLT, we take every opportunity to demonstrate high level functioning and competence by young blind people — whether we are interacting with workers fixing our household utilities, or when we are invited to a Rotary Club event, and even when we are visiting the hospital, we demand to be addressed directly and treated respectfully, we demonstrate our facility with smartphones, and so on. We train all of our BLT fellows to do the same.
Android phones with TalkBack have real transformational power for our young Blind people (far more immediate benefits to users, relative to learning laptop/desktop computer usage with assistive software). Many mainstream (sighted) smartphone users update their devices every 2-3 years, and often they keep their older but functional smartphone in storage. Part of our activities is to request and receive second-hand Android phones donated by private individuals, small organizations (e.g., rotary club), and universities. We have started a waiting list of young Blind people around Meghalaya who also want to receive and learn to use these devices. We can arrange for any minor repairs needed to the donated second-hand phones, we test them and update the accessibility software. We also plan to start helping the Blind recipients in the villages to get data plans and to connect with our members and trainers via
Whatsapp and social media. This is a critical step in helping us to educate, empower, connect, and protect young Blind people across Meghalaya and the northeast.
We have supported several of our members in filing an FIR against housing owners who have repeatedly discriminated against and abused them in order to make them move away quickly. We are currently pursuing these charges in Meghalaya lower court. However, we could not find adequate legal support for this cause in Shillong — and so we have taken the support of advocates from the supreme court in Delhi. We are pursuing the case with full determination, despite the fact that the family of offending house owners includes a powerful local advocate and a lower court Magistrate. We are serious about gaining the protections and rights guaranteed us, not only in the Indian Constitution, but in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act of 2016.
Our director and secretary were instrumental in helping to return an abused child to her mother, who is the older sister of one of our blind members — in that case, we have helped to connect with the local Child Line staff and Police (in Jowai), and then we accompanied the mother throughout the questioning and retrieval process, until her daughter was back safely in her arms. BLT also works on ATM and Net Banking Accessibility for blind people, focusing first on State Bank of India (SBI) branches and offices of Shillong, Meghalaya. Almost all SBI ATMs have the hardware to be blind-accessible, and yet almost none of them (that we have tested) is properly functioning, such that a blind person could use them independently. SBI employees tend to know nothing of these accessible facilities, which are in fact explicitly declared in SBI official policies, available online. We are presently collecting the data to characterize the technical and social factors, after which we will publish our findings and submit our recommendations to SBI local and central offices. Our BLT “Assistive Technology Development Initiative” follows on the prior work of our co-founder/secretary. Therein, BLT is now actively pursuing development of two novel blind-assistive technologies, that we intend to produce and disseminate. The first device, “Braille-It Labeler”, is a six-button mechanical device that impresses raised braille dots onto Scotch® MagicTM Tape, enabling blind users to quickly and easily make durable adhesive braille labels and notes, for educational and personal productivity purposes. For example, when a blind person returns from hospital with several different medications, the Braille-It labeler will let them quickly make tactile labels to apply to each medicine to remind them of the proper dosages, scheduling, and any special instructions or contraindications. The second device, “Waxpen”, is a stout handheld stylus that heats and extrudes crayon wax from the tip, enabling blind users to draw fast-hardening thin raised lines on paper, providing the user with real-time tactile feedback via fingers of the free hand. The latter functionality will greatly enrich sensorimotor and cognitive development in blind children and support math, navigation, and design education and communication for blind youth.
BLT does not yet work with its own funds. Rather, financial aspects of our activities are handled by individual members with their own private funds, so as to ensure our compliance with financial regulations, until we complete 12A and 80G registration and retain a reliable, trustworthy CA to support us in these matters. Up until now, BLT has opened a Trust bank account and obtained a PAN card, but beyond these, BLT has served primarily as an organizing structure for our activities. We are eager to complete 12A and 80G registration, such that we may begin to accept financial support from around India and conduct financial matters (including donations and expenditures) formally through our organization.