The BPA began in 1954 in Ahmedabad as the Blind Men’s Association (BMA), a recreation club for the blind started with the efforts of a few blind persons. Over the past five decades, it has emerged as an internationally renowned voluntary organization for the blind and people with other disabilities. The organization works to rehabilitate the disabled/blind irrespective of their class and background. Around 80 percent of their beneficiaries are from socially and economically disadvantaged classes!
The organization also focuses on the abilities, rather than the disabilities, of the disabled/blind, thus helping them to become “differently abled” individuals. Well-knowing their philosophy, I should not have been surprised then to see Shilpa, one of their visually-impaired beneficiaries, confirm she had Rs. 15 in her hands – both notes. If you’re wondering how she managed – it’s by the length of the notes. Not many of us have noticed that every Indian currency note is different!
It was this same philosophy that lead the BPA to tie-up with Vodafone, to host their call center on the BPA campus itself. This is probably one of India’s only call centers that is manned by the visually-impaired, through the use of JAWS and other softwares. The manager at this call-center shared with me that most of his employees came from small-towns in Gujarat and were now earning a respectable Rs. 5,000-10,000.
Their Ahmedabad campus also houses a school till 12th grade, a Braille Press, a library, a computer training center, a physiotherapy school, a technical school, and a vocational training center ( as well as separate girls and boys hostels). The emphasis is clearly on empowering the blind/disabled.
The Braille Press prints textbooks for students of the in-house school. Following the Gujarati curriculum, books for all subjects are made available through this press, which makes use of the Duxbury Braille software. The library already has 7,000 volumes of Braille books and the more are added everyday!
Further, the physiotherapy school is the only government-recognized school of its kind in India. Their team here shared me that the unit had trained 600 people till date, of whom, none were unemployed today! The technical school offers a one-year government-recognized certificate course in professions such as motor-rewinding, general mechanics, weaving, carpentry, and canning. And the computer training centre offers a six-month course in Basic and Dbase.
Another remarkable feature is how the organization includes the disabled at every level of decision-making. About 25 BPA employees currently are people with disabilities. For instance, the principal of the Adult Training Centre/School for the Blind and the manager of the Braille press are visually impaired, and an accountant and a computer programmer have locomotor impairment. The inclusion of the disabled in the process of training and later integration into society has resulted in more than 2,500 disabled persons working in different occupations, and more and more being involved in BPA’s initiatives.
They even follow the Integrated Education approach, in which students with any type of disability are given instruction with other students who are not disabled. This helps to promote mutual acceptance, and helps disabled people to adjust more easily to the outside.
While the organization started off as Blind Men’s Association (BMA), in 1998, its name was changed to Blind People’s Association. As the original name led many to wrongly believe that its activities and services were confined just to men. With the organization expanding its activities over the years, Blind People’s Association has now also become a misnomer.