There are close to 5.4 million people in India who are set to be irreversibly blind. George Abraham, Founder, and CEO of the SCORE Foundation (https://scorefoundation.org.in/about-us-2/) has made it his life’s work to help the world look at people with vision challenges differently – focusing on the person, not the blindness. Megan Webber, Co-Founder of KnowTheGlow, had a riveting conversation with Mr. Abraham in which he opined that blindness is not the real problem. The problem is the way people think. There is widespread ignorance as well as preconceived notions in India as to the true potential of someone who is blind. It doesn’t help that India is a country with large numbers but with scarcity when it comes to medical treatment, infrastructure, access for those in rural areas, and a majority of people dependent on a government with limited resources.
George humbly acknowledges that his parents were exceptional. He was privileged in that his parents were equipped with a positive attitude and faith ensuring that even if a challenge came along, they would find a solution and move forward rather than stepping aside and stopping the journey of life. George Abraham is a living example of what can be achieved by a person who is blind.
Eyeway started initially because of this widespread ignorance and lack of access to proper care and treatment. Knowledge, George explains to Megan, has the power to change lives and change the world. Eyeway is a hotline that shares this knowledge as a resource for anyone who needs it. For the last 15 years, people have been calling Eyeway from all over India. Since India is a linguistically diverse country, there are many languages and dialects (in fact each state speaks a different language). The 1-800 number is what people dial from all parts of India, but depending on where they are calling from, they will be routed to a location where there will be someone who can speak their language. Eyeway does not give any medical advice, but when a person calls in, they can be referred to the nearest eye hospital to see a specialist if needed. If their prognosis is not good and the condition cannot be reversed or treated, people are free to return to Eyeway to get information on how to acquire the right tools to successfully manage their lives and build their futures.
George firmly believes that people with visual impairments need to be reminded of their incredible potential and encouraged to be independent. George stressed that blind people should have fair opportunities for all jobs and careers, but that the resources must be allocated by the government. Fortunately, in 2016 the Rights of Person with Disability Act was passed which will allow for better access for those who are visually impaired.
Five years ago, Prime Minister Modi announced he was going to begin Digital India and George was thrilled because he thought it would be great for blind people, but unfortunately, the people that executed Digital India neglected to take into consideration the unique needs of those with vision impairments and now the concerns that blind people in rural areas are slipping further away. In the large cities, there are large networks of eye hospitals, so those who can afford to have visited these hospitals and blinding conditions impacting the 0-5 age range will be caught in time. This early intervention, however, is what will be missed in many rural areas. ASHA, Balwadi, and Aganwadi are all essential to build education in these rural parts but even their efforts can only scratch the surface because the country is so vast. A few eye hospitals in different parts of the country conduct school screening programs and offer training programs for teachers where they are given a simple kit to screen the children as well as guidelines as to what to watch for. In a perfect world, they would be shown how to watch also for the Glow and how to educate their communities on the same.
George and Megan agreed that while both Eyeway and KnowTheGlow have two seemingly different vision audiences with George focusing on those already diagnosed and Megan seeking to help find the diagnosis they come together in acknowledging that there is a lack of knowledge across the spectrum regarding blindness and blinding conditions. They also agree that the first 5 years of life are vital to preventing unnecessary blindness and saving a child’s eyesight. There is a natural alliance in working to protect vision and make the prospects brighter for the children of tomorrow. KnowTheGlow applauds George Abraham for his tireless work in making the world a better place for those who are visually impaired, for educating the people of India on the blinding conditions and the importance of early detection, and for sharing with the world the boundless potential opportunities for those battling vision challenges.