Tushar’s story: “I am blind, but my hearing prowess is amazing, so I can hear what you say”
I’m Tushar Valand, a mass media student. I was born blind, with albinism, a disorder that causes little to no production of melanin in the body. Subsequent regular treatment restored my vision to a certain degree, and I went from being completely blind to partially blind.
I am disabled. People call us differently abled, specially abled, etc. But why are these words used to address us? Being disabled is not something especially different.
I have a big, supportive family. We live in Nalasopara, which is an hour and a half away from Mumbai. My mother and one of my sisters were also born blind.My parents could have chosen not to do this, but they made sure I receive medical treatment, and receive everything a so-called “normal” child does. My mother does housework independently, and knows perfectly well what is where and who is hiding where.
School and college life
I went to the Happy Home and School for the Blind, Worli. I dreamed of attending the esteemed St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and I worked towards it, never letting my disability come in the way.
I did well in my exams and got into my dream college. Getting into college was the best experience, I had a lot of friends around me to chill out with, who pulled my leg, treated me as equals, and were always around to help me. Now I am studying towards a BMM degree in the same college. It is different and difficult, and yet fun.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have any disabilities, in order to be able to do everything my friends do. At college, I learn a lot of technical and creative work, which requires a lot of precision and care. Because I can’t see fully, it can be hard to do things like setting margins and taking photographs, and I have to depend on other people. Most times, it is alright, but sometimes some friends ask for a treat in return, which makes me feel helpless.
None of this means that disabled people can’t achieve anything. I aspire to be a filmmaker one day, and I receive a lot of support from my college for the skills I need to learn in order to do this. I’m the sound engineer for a short film we’re making, and this kind of work is really helpful for all of us in this field.
Society and accessibility
I have an hour and a half long commute to college via train. It used to be difficult for me to board trains, and my parents accompanied me to college. Now, commuting has become a habit, and I am familiar with the trains and platforms.
However, attitudes to my disability have not changed. People stare openly on the street and talk about me loudly, which makes me feel terrible. For example, I overheard two young men wondering aloud whether I was a foreigner, or whether I had some kind of serious disorder. They didn’t know if they should travel with me. Hearing things like this makes me feel like going up to them and saying, “Brother, I am blind, but my hearing prowess is amazing, so I can hear what you say. Thank you.”
College has been an accepting environment, and has a resource centre called the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged, which has raised awareness and expanded our horizons in terms of accessibility and support. The Centre has volunteers who scan and edit class notes that can be read by a software, or who record these notes for us.
However, the stereotypical approach towards blindness and other disabilities still remains the same among other colleges, and society in general. If people could change their mindset about disabled people not being “normal”, there will be a great wave of change, that will motivate us to feel independent and complete. I believe that this change is not far away.