A person without digital skills is termed illiterate in today’s technologically driven world. From studying and working, to socializing and engaging with the outside world, all takes place online. Thanks to tech innovations, persons with blindness and vision impairment are also able to digitally engage with various services.
They can use screen reading software to operate smartphones and computers, in order to read, write, browse, navigate, et cetera. However, not everyone has the access to digital skills or devices that can empower them to thrive in a mainstream environment.
To lead independent lives, blind people need access to opportunities of education and employment. As per the law, 1% quota is reserved in government jobs for blind and visually impaired population. Every year, the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) releases certain job vacancies based on different educational eligibility where blind people can also apply.
And these job applications involve physical form submissions. The two modes of communication and access for blind people are Braille script and assistive technology. This third way of filling out a job application leaves them dependent on a sighted person. Most aspirants seek help from local cyber cafés or rely on a friend or relative to fill out their details. In either case, they have no way to check for errors. Let’s look at three different accounts across three states.
25-year-old Inder Kumar Yadav from Ballia, Uttar Pradesh lost his vision due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Based on his Class 12th degree, he applied for Multi-Tasking Staff post under SSC. He called Eyeway to check whether the examination authority will provide him with a scribe. Upon checking his submitted form, the counselor realized that Inder had not checked the relevant boxes for scribe provision. The person who filled out his form never asked him about his requirements.
23-year-old Naresh Kumar from Hissar, Haryana is totally blind. He is a graduate who applied for a job under the Staff Selection Commission Combined Higher Secondary Level (SSC-CHSL) which includes roles like Assistant Data entry operator, Lower Division clerk etc. In his case, the sighted person wrongly filled out his name as ‘Harish’. Going forward this name on his application won’t tally with the documents submitted, jeopardising his chances of securing the job despite clearing the examination and all eligibility criteria.
27-year-old Sangameshwar Sangundi from Solapur, Maharashtra also applied for a role under the Multi-Tasking Staff vacancy. He arranged his own scribe but didn’t fill out the required declaration form which is available with the admit card to clear official protocol. Since he didn’t submit a declaration, he was unable to appear for the exam.
In all three cases, the reliance on sighted people impacted their future course of action, hampering their access to job opportunity. It’s one thing to reserve jobs for persons with vision impairment and another to ensure their access to these vacancies. From listing the job advertisement, to application, document verification, interview and so on, the entire process needs to be accessible to the blind population. If the application itself requires sighted intervention, how can we assume that the job role will be carried out independently? Is it time to explore tech solutions for the blind community given our emphasis on Digital India?