|Brailled visiting cards
|With Nidhi Arora’s Esha you can ‘Braille enable’ your visiting cards so that they can be read by the visually impaired, as well as the sighted
Have you ever thought of having your visiting cards done in Braille too? If not, try some. Let your visiting cards be bilingual for that matter trilingual.
Get information like your name, designation and contact details in Braille alongside English, Arabic or any other language.
It makes your visiting cards stand out. It certainly feels and looks different. It works differently too, believes Nidhi Arora, 33, a SAP consultant, the brain behind the Braille visiting cards.
“When you first hand out your Braille enabled visiting card to someone, it’s an ice breaker. It helps to strike a conversation as people want to know about it. Moreover, it gives a good first impression about your personality. It talks a lot about the person you are and that you believe in inclusiveness and you care,” she says.
Nidhi is only speaking the personal experiences she has had while exchanging cards and other people’s who have got their cards done in Braille.
Braille enabled visiting cards do much more than this. They generate livelihood for the visually challenged people who are engaged in embossing Braille letters on the cards.
“After doing a logistical study it turns out that if there are enough orders like 17,000 to 20,000, and a person does 800 cards a day for five days a week, she should be earning minimum, Rs17,000 a month,” Nidhi says.
It takes only 40 minutes to do 100 cards. So if a person works fast she can earn even more. But the challenge is to find bigger orders to provide sustained work to more visually challenged people. “Even if 10 per cent of India’s business cards are Braille enabled, a lot of blind persons can benefit out of it,” she believes.
Nidhi, an alumna of India’s premiere business school, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Kolkata, designed this product after forming Esha in 2005 to uplift the blind. Through Esha, she has trained many visually challenged persons, drilled into them management skills, the importance of delivering good service on time and professionalism.
From the beginning she was clear she was not going to do any charity. “Esha is in the business of creating dignified blind entrepreneurs, sensitising people about the blind and creating role models,” she says.
At the end of the training, the students have to qualify a test without which they can’t become Esha’s beneficiaries or independent entrepreneurs.
Chandrasekhar KN, 30, is one of Esha beneficiaries in Bangalore. He joined Esha in 2005 when Nidhi was working in the city. Five years on, the training at Esha has changed his life tremendously.
In his family three members, including him, younger brother and elder sister, are blind. After getting trained at Esha, he started training others and also doing cards in Braille mainly for corporate houses, including Wipro. Out of that income, he built a house and got his younger sister and himself married.
“Today I’m very happy and lead a dignified life. I get a lot of orders for making visiting and greeting cards. I also conduct awareness programmes for corporate firms and schools,” says Chandrasekhar. He does this work in his spare time as he works full time sports facility in-charge for an NGO.
During the training period, he learnt entrepreneurial skills and the value of high standards of work.
Nidhi drives home the message that no substandard service will be considered in a world of cut-throat competition.
“It was difficult to convince my beneficiaries in the beginning. They had never seen professionalism except charity before coming to Esha,” says she.
From their childhood they are used to charity and conditioned to the idea of living life off charity.
“By the age of 21, visually challenged people would give up and think they are unemployable. They think a blind can be good only for making candles, handicraft, mechanical job or just for teaching.”
It’s this mental framework she wanted to change. She wanted to show a blind person can do much more than that.
“If a blind person is earning between Rs1,000 and Rs3,000, people think they are lucky that they are at least making that kind of money. That angered me a lot and made me think to train them and enable them to find their own work which is good enough to have a dignified life,” reveals Nidhi.
Today Eshas’ clients include celebrity hair stylist Jawed Habibs who has given contract to have his cards Braille enabled. There are many individuals who give orders and the business “comes from reference, through word of mouth.”
Nidhi is quite emotional about Esha and formally started it with transcribing books in Braille and recording audio books.
“The first workshop was held in June 2006 and 22 people were trained in that. However, only one person cleared that workshop to be a beneficiary or to receive monetary benefit from Esha.
What motivated her to start Esha? She gives the credit to the movie Sparsh (touch) which she had seen when she was just seven.
A scene from the movie made such an impact on her that she decided to do her bit for the cause of the blind. In the movie she saw a boy with vision reading a story to a blind friend. She could not imagine a child’s world without having to read story books. Being blind and not being able to read and enjoy story books quite did not make sense to her. She took it quite upon her to learn Braille so that she could transcribe books. But she could do that only 10 years later when she was in college.
“I started transcribing storybooks in Braille during NSS (National Social Scheme) in college,” says Nidhi, adding, “It doesn’t take long to learn Braille and transcribe books.”
She worked off and on for the cause of blind until Esha happened.
She spotted a supply chain gap. The blind did not have direct access to books in Braille. So she started transcribing books and having them directly delivered to blind persons.
Nidhi works for Esha while doing a full time five-day a week job and raising her two-and-a-half year old son. Is taking out extra hours for Esha stressful? “Not at all,” says she. “Esha has given me fulfilment, a meaning in life. I’m lucky to find that so early in my life,” says she with moist eyes.
Apart from Braille, audio books and making tactile maps, Esha beneficiaries give team building exercise to corporate employees. The training lasts between three to eight hours and costs just Rs5,000.
“The exercise entirely based on theatre is an expressive way of building a team. It also helps in creating awareness towards the needs of differently-abled people. And at the end of the exercise, it gives tremendous positive feeling to its attendants,” says Nidhi.
SAP and Bharati School of Telecom, IIT Delhi, are some of the clients which received Eshas’ bonding exercise.
Esha beneficiaries also do Accessibility Audit for schools and offices. It’s basically to find out whether an office or school is disabled or blind friendly or not.
An Esha beneficiary would asses the facility from the point of view of a blind customer, employee and a visitor. At a school, the professional would see from the point of view of a blind student, professor and visitor and give his feedback.
“The client has to be satisfied with the service. We tell the clients if they are not satisfied with a product they should not pay. They should not be paying money out of sympathy but based on the quality of the product Esha offers,” says Nidhi, who is very particular about the quality standard.
That’s why during her training of beneficiaries, charity, self pity and sympathy go out of the window. Responsibility and service quality comes in.
To train beneficiaries, she works with them as long as for 24 months to make them thorough in doing what they do. Nidhi focuses on each trainee individually and grooms them to be in-charge of their own work.
The beneficiaries are trained in providing service to Esha clients. Apart from that, they are trained in direct client feedback, payment follow-up, invoicing, tracking orders and deliveries, preparing and maintaining a client network, and soliciting independent business.
She says her efforts are tiny to match India’s 15 million blind people (largest blind population of the world). She fears they are becoming a marginalised community. Because as society “we are becoming more exclusive, what doesn’t fit in is thrown out,” rues she.
(Hemlata Aithani is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist.)