Dilipbhai Shah, an M.Com student from Nadiad district of Gujarat, was living a perfectly normal life with his family. But as he entered his 20’s, fate had different plans for him.
He was diagnosed with the rare disorder called ‘optic nerve atrophy’ – damage of the optic nerve and ‘retina detachment’ – an emergency situation in which retina detaches from supporting tissue. With this, came the daunting realization that he would no longer be able to see the colours of life!
While for many of us, the revelation could have brought our world crashing down, Dilipbhai refused to be defeated by the tragic turn of events. On the contrary, he set out to conquer his life with increased courage and optimism. And as it is often said, “when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“I starkly remember it was the 3rd Sunday of March, World Disability Day. The mention of blind school at Blind People’s Association (BPA), Ahmedabad, on radio immediately caught my attention. At first, I thought that it would be like any other school, but I was amazed when I actually saw it for the first time,” shares Dilipbhai.
Dilipbhai later went on to pursue a two-year master’s course in Physiotherapy from the Nandini Ramesh Gandhi School of Physiotherapy for the blind, BPA, supported by Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. Soon afterwards, he got his first job as a physiotherapist with HelpAge UK NGO. Just when life seemed to fall in place once again, another set of challenges emerged in front of Dilipbhai.
Visual impairment severely hampered Dilipbhai’s mobility and freedom to work. It was the time when smart assistive technology like Saarthi was not accessible to the differently abled in India yet. Dilipbhai’s role at the new job required him to frequently visit the underprivileged in the slums of Ahmedabad. And manoeuvring through the narrow, crowded lanes of the city with the help of a white cane merely raised new challenges for him every day. As if this were not enough, he even met with an accident and almost fractured his bones while commuting to work one day!
However, if there was still anything that kept Dilipbhai going, defying all odds at the end of the day, it was his strong-willed and ‘never-say-give-up’ attitude. And it was the same attitude that later earned him the honourable position of principal, blind school, Blind People’s Association, Ahmedabad.
Though times have changed for the better now, Dilipbhai believes that his path to empowerment was not easy. Therefore, he is now driven by the motto of sharing and helping others like him through their journeys. So, when he was first approached by TorchIt in 2014, for his feedback and inputs during the R&D phase of ‘Saarthi’, he gladly accepted to share his thoughts. And indeed, they played an instrumental role in giving shape to the device that was finally launched back in 2017.
Dilipbhai has been one of the foremost users of Saathi and is very happy with its outcomes for the visually impaired. According to him, the best part about the device is that it is locally and easily available, can be attached to the white cane, has low maintenance cost, and is designed keeping in mind the end-users and their needs.
“Saarthi is like a dream come true. It has most of the things that a blind person would want. Most importantly, it has given back to me my confidence to walk without fear and with pride,” says Dilipbhai gladly.
Not only this, Dilipbhai also wants to encourage his visually challenged friends to use Saarthi without any kind of social stigma or hesitations. His message for them?
“Don’t worry about what the world will say, just have faith in you and what you do so much so that it becomes a trend.”
At Torchit, we come across many beacons of hope like Dilipbhai every day. If you’re intrigued by this story and want to share with us your experiences of having met similarly inspiring specially abled persons, do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org