Aside from working full-time at EnAble India, Vidushi and her volunteering group take the blind and hearing-impaired on adventurous treks to show them that they can accomplish much more that they think.
An internship with EnAble India during her Masters course changed Vidushi’s life. Here, she saw that simple things could help the disabled lead better lives. Under the mentorship of Vishnu Soman from EnAble India, she started a volunteer group for people who shared her vision, aptly naming it ‘India for Inclusion’.
“I had only heard about trekking adventures and rock climbing from my sighted friends. For the first time ever in my life, I got to experience them myself, and it was very thrilling,” reminisces Jayaraj, a blind trek participant.
The group’s efforts are focused on organising activities that can bring lifestyle change by building confidence among the physically challenged of our society. These activities include trekking, sports, and community training programmes, all aimed at self transformation.
Vidhushi taking a session
Currently, the group organizes treks to destinations near Bengaluru for the trainees of the Skill Employability Programme at EnAble India. Vidushi has organised three treks so far, taking 150 disabled people for treks of different difficulty levels.
Sivapriya, a repeat participant of the treks, says, “When I went on the trek for the first time, the realization dawned upon me that I can do this on my own. All the treks have been a very liberating experience.”
Vidushi has a Masters in Counselling Psychology from Christ College, Bengaluru and is now National Coordinator of Community Initiatives at EnAble India. She believes that people with disabilities are often too sheltered to realise that they are capable of doing much more.The first blind trek was to Makalibetta, a trek of moderate difficulty “Lack of mobility is a very significant impediment for the visually challenged and hearing impaired. If they can move around on their own, they realize that they can lead a more normal life, like anyone else,” says Vidushi Jayaswal.
The first blind trek to Ramanagaram
Through these activities, Vidushi aims to help the disabled assimilate with society. “While there are many volunteer groups for environmental protection and animal care, there aren’t many groups engaging with people with disabilities,” she says.
With India for Inclusion, Vidushi hopes that people are more sensitised to the experiences of the disabled. This will result in the disabled being closer to enjoying the independence of the non-disabled. But volunteers need the right training to participate.The trekkers take a selfie at the big boulder in Ramanagara
Volunteering for sensitivity and inclusion
Crowdfunding India, Milaap is India's largest crowdfunding platform for social, personal and medical causes.
Vidushi says, “Volunteering helps to erase stigma by direct participation. The training shows volunteers how to enable the physically-challenged so they can operate independently.” Pat-style sign language is used between participants to give them directions and warnings of obstacles in the way.
The first blind-trek team
For each trek, one visually-challenged participant is paired with a hearing-impaired individual.A volunteer is assigned to every pair to support them whenever required. Such a group promotes and enforces the need to grow and learn together.
This teamwork makes no height too tall to conquer. Shashank, a first-time participant of the trek, says, “Even though it was physically draining, it was a worthwhile experience. The teamwork made the summit seem like a piece of cake.” The participants communicate with a unique pat-style sign language with each other that lets them proceed safely. The very first trek in October had 22 visually-challenged participants, 17 hearing-impaired participants, and 13 volunteers. The unique communication style promotes communication at different levels.
A hearing-impaired participant, Dipti, says, “After covering some distance, I got so comfortable with communicating with my partner, Lokesh, that I didn’t need the help of a volunteer. I am proud of both of us for completing this trek.”
The second blind trek
Coupled with the EnAble India skill-development programme, Vidushi feels that participants emerged more confident and capable of taking on the challenges of life. Vidushi says, “Everyone has started to communicate much more and the participants are much more supportive of each other,” Vidushi says.Her work proves that through strengthening the community, the physically-challenged can gain confidence to lead better lives.
Vidushi raised funds for the expenses of a trek to Ramanagar on Milaap successfully in the month of September. She even organized the third volume of the Blind Trek on November 26 at Maribetta.
About the author: Sudhakar Iyer is a Milaap Open Fellow bringing stories of hope, resilience, and change from Bangalore.
This story first appeared on The Better India.