When he suffered 90 per cent visual impairment at the age of 19 for some fungal infection, he thought he has lost everything.
It all appeared like a dark tunnel to him and he confined himself to the four walls of house for six years. The family could not come to terms with the reality and he even thought of committing suicide.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel. So much that 23-years later, Prashant Ranjan Verma, 42, considers his disability as a ‘blessing in disguise’.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do so well in life and for myself and for society with sight, I could have been a CA (Chartered Accountant) that I was pursuing when I lost vision,” Verma, internationally noted accessibility specialist and disability activist, told The Statesman.
Based in Delhi, he is presently a consultant with DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Consortium based in Switzerland and general secretary of National Association for the Blind, Delhi. He was here for a training workshop for visually impaired students in Himachal Pradesh University (HPU) with his wife, Veena Mehta Verma, a blind by birth.
Verma has not only utilised, but has trained thousands of visually impaired across the globe use technology to lead independent life.
But not without struggle. “I wasted six years of my life in unawareness. One fine day, I just got up and looked for an opportunity and landed up at NGO, National Association for the Blind, which was just 200 metres away from my house. I learnt computer technology to empower myself,” said Verma. “It was a magical intervention for me. From no one, I became someone,” he said confidently.
Verma chose spread of technology to the blind as his work field to provide access to the blinds, who, he said, are mainly from poor background.
His wife, manager with National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), too is a role model for blind people and counsels them. She started her education at the age of 11 years in Delhi for unawareness and lack of facility in Orissa, where her father was posted. But she caught up with education fast and did MBA.
“The main problem is unacceptability. The disabled, their parents and even the governments don’t accept the reality and take it as something to just sympathise with,” Veena said.
She was critical of the word ‘Divyang’ word given for the disabled by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. “A disabled is a disabled. He or she has to struggle to be a part of society at every step. We should shed the sympathy angle and rather think of creating a system where disabled can feel at ease and grow in mainstream,” she said.
Both Verma and Veena are national awardees for their sustained effort to enable the disabled separately. “Unfortunately, the policy makers are not sensitised towards disability in India. We should have disability as chapter in school, college curricula so that decision makers of tomorrow know the ground reality,” they said.