A Cyber Cafe for the Blind: The National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled

Happening Issue 79 Jul, 2010
Text by Nandita Rana

For me, disability is a way of getting some extremity, some kind of very difficult situatio that throws an interesting light on people, remarks Novelist Mark Haddon. The proof of Haddon’s words are seen examples of people like Helen Keller who was blind, deaf and mute, the famous musician Ludwig van Beethoven who was deaf, the English author and poet John Milton who was blind, Franklin D. Roosevelt, former president of the US who had polio, the mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein who had a learning disability, the Indian actress Sudha Chandran who dances with a Jaipur foot, and even the Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise who suffers from dyslexia, a learning disability.

These are some of the more or less disabled people who have created history and are a source of inspiration for millions of others. The one thing common amongst all of them is that they all have suffered disability of some form. But, as Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton puts it: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” As the examples above show us, disability or handicap is not always ‘immobilizing’, nor is it an excuse for a setback. Rather, it is a challenge to overcome hurdles through persistence and patience.

“Some of our society are still disparaging about physical disability. When we go to remote villages for our wheelchair distribution projects,” says Rakesh Hamal, Chairman of the Nepal’s National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled, “some families prefer to keep silent on the disability issue of some of their family members. For them it is a matter of embarrassment that is better not talked about.” Hamal is a social activist who has been working for the welfare of disabled people in Nepal for years.

He is also a past president of the Disabled Relief Fund Management Committee (Nepal), advisor for the Blind Cricket Association of Nepal, and a member of prestigious organizations like the Social Welfare Council, the National Disabled Service Coordination Committee and the Sushma Koirala Memorial Trust. Currently, Hamal is very busy running the National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled, which is fully dedicated to the cause of empowering and mobilizing the disabled groups in Nepal. Because Hamal believes that disability need not be a hindrance in life, he is determined to bring equality and justice to the disabled so that they can live lives of dignity, respect and self sufficiency.

The National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled (NRSD) is the first such organization in Nepal that has opened up a cyber café for the blind. They’ve done it with support from Mercantile, the Kathmandu computer company. The cyber café was established to give blind people access to the global Internet. The NRSD cyber café is exclusively for the blind and other physically challenged people. Many things have been kept in consideration at this cyber café not found in others. For example, space has been arranged for the free movement of the wheelchair users and those requiring other special mobility devices. Even the toilets are designed for the ease of the disabled visitors. There is a special room for the blind users as their computers require special software and programs, such as the interactive Jaws for Windows. The NRSD is also in the process of adding Braille displayers and printers displayers for the blind and a CCTV magnifier for the visually impaired, after determining what is needed through thorough research and documentation.

The cyber café is open from ten in the morning till late in the evening and remains open in the holidays as well, so that people can use the facilities even after their school, college or work. All the services provided are free of cost and there are no barriers for the visitors by age or professional background. The NRSD staff members supervise and assist users, and there are well trained instructors who provide training in order to familiarize the blind with the equipment and the Internet.

Santosh Pariyar, 20, a student visitor the cyber café, says that he heard about it through one of his friends. He adds, “This facility has been very helpful to me for both my educational research and also my personal use. However, this organization should be given more publicity so that other disabled people can come here and use the facility.”

Suman Raimajhi, 25, is another visitor who is very appreciative of the initiative taken by the NRSD’s Internet services for the disabled, and adds that it is easier for him to come here rather than go to other cyber cafés.

The National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled has also organized free wheelchair distribution in Nepal in support of the LDSC charities and Nepal Hope-USA. It is notable that within five years of its founding the NRSD has been able to distribute more than 2,000 wheelchairs. In order to offer their services outside of Kathmandu, the organization teams up with local NGOs in various communities and after comprehensive evaluation, they distribute wheelchairs. This way the organization not only aims to help the needy, but is also mobilizing the participation of local institutions in welfare activities. The Rehabilitation Society also teaches basic know how on wheelchairs, including their maintenance.

These, too, are looked after by partner NGOs in the communities. The organization holds donation programs at least once a month in different places inside and outside Kathmandu. One of their core aims is to empower the disabled by providing them with mobility and accessibility. Another is to educate the public about disability and the attempts of the disabled to live normal lives. Hamal recalls an incident when they had organized a wheelchair rally at Dhangadi in western Nepal. At first, the locals there were intimated by the sight. It was the first time most of them had ever seen a wheelchair. He adds, however, that he received a warm welcome and supportive feedback afterwards.

The National Rehabilitation center also organizes various vocational training programs for the disabled. They strongly support the independent existence and the competence of disabled people in the society. That is why various skill-oriented vocational trainings on handicrafts, paper craft, tailoring, e-ticketing and other skills are provided. The trainers are selectively chosen handicapped people themselves, which serves to inspire and give confidence to others. The organization also plans to create a library fully dedicated to the disabled.

The disabled make up about 10 percent of the population of Nepal, so the NRSD services are very welcome. Rakesh Hamal, the Chairman, believes that education is the key to empowering the disabled and informing the larger society. In this way, he and his group intend to  strengthen and empower the disabled in Nepal so that they can live independent and dignified lives, no longer branded as ‘handicapped’.