Featured Storyteller

INDIA: Creating a More Accessible World for People with Disabilities

Tiffany Brar
Posted November 30, 2021 from India
Image shows a travel shot of Tiffany Brar in a black shirt seated atop a camel. Tiffany has a wide smile and is raising her left arm above her head. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Brar)

As a blind girl growing up in India, Tiffany overcame countless obstacles. Now she helps people with disabilities access resources, build skills, and become leaders in their communities.

“I imagine a world where people with disabilities live with dignity and have easy access to information and resources, where they take on the world and the challenges they face in leadership roles

“No! Can't! Don't!” These words continue to ring in my ears and the ears of other blind people across the world. This is because our parents and guardians are often afraid for us and worry about how we go about our days.

We need to treat people with disabilities as people and afford them the respect we give to non-disabled people. Questions we frequently ask people with disabilities, like “How do you take a bath?” or “How do you change your clothes?” would embarrass people without disabilities. As a blind woman, I know how it feels to have others’ place limitations on me — to not be treated with the dignity I deserve.

My upbringing was challenging. I grew up in a military family, traveling from one state to another in India, shifting schools, and being thrown out of class. I was not allowed to play in the field, never got my Braille books on time (if at all), and was publicly humiliated during math exams.

Menstrual hygiene is a challenge for most adolescents in India and around the world. As a blind girl who lost her mom at a young age, it was even more challenging for me. In Indian tradition, menstruation is considered impure. The wardens where I stayed would not even show us how to use sanitary pads. As a result, most of the blind girls dirtied our dresses and were considered a curse to our community. 

Traveling alone as a girl with a disability was another difficulty. I loved the independence, but people taunted me and made me feel unsafe. Luckily, I found a lady who became like a mother to me. She taught me skills with the utmost care, from menstrual hygiene to picking out clothes and learning how to safely travel on my own. The woman helped me overcome hurdle after hurdle, giving me the confidence to attend trainings and eventually start my own organization.

I attended self-defense classes to protect myself and began training through Mobility International USA, a disability-led nonprofit advancing disability rights and leadership globally. As I broke through the limitations others had placed on me, I wanted to help other people with disabilities do the same.

After completing my Social Impact Management Training through Kanthari International Braille Without Borders, I started the Jyothirgamaya Foundation in 2015. I traveled searching for blind people, training them with skills like using a cane, smartphone, computer, and other assistive aids that make life easier. I also taught them how to travel alone and go shopping. 

In addition to this training, my organization has taught blind people vocational skills that help them build livelihoods and become financially independent. All of these skills enable the students to be at par with their sighted counterparts.

Outside of training blind people in my community, I have advocated for inclusive elections and Braille voting ballots on The Election Commission. After Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi declared a sudden currency note change in 2016, I fought for accessible currency notes that blind or low-vision people can distinguish by different sizes and colors. 

I now work with IT companies to make digital content accessible and follow content accessibility guidelines. My goal is to help pave the way for people with disabilities to fully access digital information and have it at their fingertips.

I had always been that shy girl who couldn’t be included in sports, but I broke that barrier in my social activities by skydiving, paragliding, and tandem cycling. Over time, I became a TEDx speaker and received the 2017 National Award for Best Role Model, an award given each year in India to exemplary people with disabilities. I want other blind people to be able to access these opportunities and fully participate in their communities.

In 2016, the Indian government passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, emphasizing accessibility and inclusion. This is a start, but we can take many more measures to make our schools inclusive and our infrastructure accessible. For example, all schools should have resource teachers who are specialized according to the children with disabilities in that particular school. Buildings can become more accessible by including braille signage.

People with disabilities have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling with joblessness, low incomes, and mental health challenges. On top of this, women with disabilities have experienced high rates of gender-based violence.

What do we do to make this world a better place for people with disabilities, especially after the pandemic? I imagine a world where people with disabilities live with dignity and have easy access to information and resources, where they take on the world and the challenges they face in leadership roles. I feel the world has to change and accept us the way others are accepted. 

I envision a barrier-free environment for the blind community in India — especially women — where we can live freely, travel, raise our voices, and earn a living.  The seeds of leading my blind community and the vision of changing the world are deep-rooted in my heart every day. I haven’t reached my finish line, but I’ll continue to run until every blind woman in my community gets the empowerment and training she deserves.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's #DisabilityJustice campaign and Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more

Comments 21

Log in or register to post comments
Fatuwa
Nov 30, 2021
Nov 30, 2021

Wow, wow, wow. Tiffany, you at a Marvel.
I could feel your BIG heart through your story. I feel you want to use all your success to inspire other blind girls and women.
You have really inspired me. May the almighty God bless you more.
Greetings to that great led who taught you all the skills and steps to overcome your obstacles.
Thank you.
In Sisterhood,
Fatuma Wamala

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks for your kind words, Fatuwa.

Regina Afanwi Young
Dec 01, 2021
Dec 01, 2021

Hello dearie, congratulations on your story award. Great job for all you do. I you rock!!!

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks Regina.

Jill Langhus
Dec 01, 2021
Dec 01, 2021

Hello, Tiffany,

Congrats on your story award, and keep up the great work! XX

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks Jil,

Jill Langhus
Jan 05
Jan 05

You're welcome, dear!

maeann
Dec 01, 2021
Dec 01, 2021

Congratulations Tiffany! You are the rising star who are empowered and believed in herself.

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks so much Maeann.

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Congratulations, dear Tiffany! What an incredible story of grit, determination and vision to all your achievement!
More strength and wisdom to you dear sis a you keep breaking these barriers.

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks for your kind words and support ARREY.

Leku Sylvie Nakou
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

Congratulations Tiffany, you deserve this award. You are so brave, continue to shine!

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks Leku.

Olanike Adesanya
Dec 03, 2021
Dec 03, 2021

"I haven’t reached my finish line, but I’ll continue to run until every blind woman in my community gets the empowerment and training she deserves".
Not at all my Dear Tiffany.
I am happy for your many achievement.
Please keep it up.

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks for your motivating words and support,Olanike.

Susu Mohamed
Dec 04, 2021
Dec 04, 2021

Dear sister Tiffa,

Wooow congrats on story award. Thank you for sharing us. Your beautiful picture.
Regards,
Suu

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks Susu.

Grace Iliya
Dec 07, 2021
Dec 07, 2021

Congrats on your story award Tiffany. Keep up the good work dear, more grace to you

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Thanks so much for your supporting words Grace.

Wusufor
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Dear Tiffany,
A big congratulations to you. What a beautiful camel, was it on a festival or a tour camel? Looks like you enjoying the ride ? Ha
Take care!

Tiffany Brar
Jan 04
Jan 04

Ya,,
Thanks for your comments.