Showing The Way For Visually Challenged People; Parimala Bhat, Founder, Snehankit Helpline

Showing The Way For Visually Challenged People; Parimala Bhat, Founder, Snehankit Helpline

Pooja PatelUpdated: Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 09:18 AM IST
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Parimala Bhat, founder and chairperson, Snehankit Helpline |
Kanchan Pamnani, Solicitor and Trustee, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People

Kanchan Pamnani, Solicitor and Trustee, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People |

Parimala Bhat’s struggles as a visually impaired young woman inspired her to help other visually disabled people to access education, seek employment and become truly independent.

Growing up, Bandra resident Parimala Bhat had it hard. Visually impaired, Bhat was keen on academics, but she faced problems in college due to the lack of Braille textbooks and having to be dependent on readers and volunteers to study and to complete assignments. In spite of these hardships, she not only went on to finish her degrees in social work and business management, but also worked with Air India.

Keen that other visually impaired people do not suffer similarly, Bhat, in 2001, decided to start an organisation. “I founded Snehankit Helpline to help my brothers and sisters to overcome the melange of problems,” says the 65-year-old, adding that the objective is to reach out to visually challenged adults and children throughout Maharashtra. “Especially people in the remote areas of the state, where children don’t get enough facilities to pursue education.” 

Lending new meaning to the term ‘visionary’, Bhat started by inviting volunteers to convert textbooks into audio books. “No volunteer needed to travel, they could be in their own house and record the books. They just need to send us the audio files.” Before smartphones became widely available, these audio books would be saved on CDs and mailed to students even in remote villages in Maharashtra.  

Having started with textbooks from Mumbai University, Snehankit has now recorded audio books for states including Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, as well as books for those taking admission exams to MPSC, UPSC, railways, banking and other competitive exams. “So many visually challenged people are appearing for these exams and they need to read and study hard. So we are recording their books as and when it's requested,” says Bhat. They have recorded books in Hindi, Marathi, English, Pali and Sanskrit, approximately 5,000 books in all.

Taking a step further, they started a Braille production unit in 2016 with the support of K Raman Shankar, Pallavi Shankar and Mahendra More, experts in the field. “We get requests from so many people for Braille transcription, so we have been transcribing books of class 10, 11, 12; general books and other reading material,” says Bhat, who was also associated with the Kamala Mehta School for Blind and served for 20 years as secretary to the National Association for the Blind.  

To train the visually impaired to be truly independent, Snehankit  conducts week-long residential camps, where vocational and home management skills are taught. “In a lot of cases, people are quite intelligent, but due to overprotective families, these children and young adults are not exposed to the world outside their homes. So we train them in mobility, how to use a white cane while going about, how to ask help from other people when they are on the road, bus stop, railway station, etc.”

Students are also taught to do day to day chores like washing, folding and ironing the clothes; washing vessels; identification of things like pulses, shapes, coins and objects; cutting and peeling vegetables and fruits; oiling and rolling patties; roasting food; how to use a cooker for cooking; and for some fun, they are also taught how to play games. 

“We also have a computer literacy project where we train students how to use computers, advanced Excel, as well as how to use smartphones,” shares Bhat. Snehankit’s programmes on effective communication also train students on how to appear for job interviews.

“But for students who cannot study a lot or are not keen on education, we teach them soap-making, shampoo-making, face wash making, how to dehydrate fruits and package them, etc,” she says. This offers an avenue for financial independence.

Speaking of the amazing work that Bhat has been doing is Kanchan Pamnani, a solicitor, who is herself visually impaired and is on the board of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. “Her work, especially with youngsters, is something that I admire the most. The services and resources that she provides to young people in terms of braille and audio reading material, teaching technology to them and the camps are phenomenal. I admire that she has determinedly been working even after she retired from Air India,” Pamnani shares.  

All of Snehankit’s different programmes are conducted at their Andheri office, Dombivali centre and at other locations, with the help of 200-odd volunteers who have touched the lives of thousands.

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