#Staying the Course

Tiffany Brar

“We have to fight focusing on the blindness but rather enable blind people to pursue their talents by helping them to become independent and build confidence. I’m trying to change the status quo by challenging it. Sometimes I can’t do it because there are many barriers, so I’m not yet there reaching the sky but I’m gradually going for it.”

Tiffany Brar is a motivational speaker, a special educator and a social activist, raising her voice for her community as well as for other disabilities. “The courageous daughter of India” so called Dr. Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, Tiffany Brar. A born fighter did not let her disability stand as a hindrance in the way of her progress. She lost her sight shortly after birth due to the negligence of a doctor, but she did not let this go to her head, on the contrary, she accepted proudly to be blind. She believes that it is god’s plan for her life, and her life has taken a much more meaningful turn! At the age of 12 she lost her mother, which instilled in her even more determination, to fend for herself, fight her battles on her own and help others.

„You can’t go up there! You will fall, and there are no rails!“ said her father once, while she was trying to walk along with Sabriye, actually with Sabriye’s white-cane, on the uneven construction site of the dormitories of the future kanthari participants. Tiffany paid no heed, and with the encouragement from Sabriye, took flight and continued to walk with the utmost confidence. She enrolled as a kanthari participant in the year 2013 and was a successful kanthari graduate.

The Sky’s The Limit. Tiffany Brar at TEDxKodaikanalInternationalSchool

She travelled in public transport to the houses of these blind people instilling in them the confidence they needed. She vowed she would try to eliminate blind back benchers from the classroom system, and that no blind child she knew, would have to suffer. kanthari played a major role in her development, Sabriye Tenberken was the first empowered blind woman she saw.

Tiffany had a childhood full of many challenges. The biggest was on account of her disability: at school, among playmates, and even in college. Her parents hailed from a multicultural army background, because of which she got to travel around and learn many languages. She got an earlier education in Great Britain, focused on learning by doing. After that, she returned to Kerala, India where the regional language was the primary mode of instruction in blind schools. Working around the linguistic barrier was only the first of the many challenges faced by her as she was educated in both schools for the blind as well as integrated schools. She would sit at the back of the class, had to wait for a long time to get her Braille notes and was not taught necessary survival skills at the right time.

She has faced and successfully overcome several challenges which have given her the drive and determination to start Jyothirgamaya Foundation. The Foundation to take forward the mission of empowering the blind. Jyothirgamaya provides training to blind people in rural areas, who are unable to come to the training centre, and residential training courses to blind people in all necessary skills paving the way for their employment, integration, and assimilation into the mainstream.

Empowering the Blind: Jyothirgamaya-an eye to the blind!

Tiffani has worked hard to lead by example, and counselled parents to allow their blind children to venture out and live normal lives. She got her first job as a receptionist at kanthari, which enabled her to travel by herself and sharpen her mobility skills. She visited many blind organizations, and people, and found that there were many back benchers, who were fighting discrimination, and who lacked skills.

She went on to do her B.ed. special education, from Ramakrishna mission Vivekananda University. While visiting the homes of blind people, tribal people, and other underprivileged during her work and field trips with the kanthari participants, she found many blind people confined to their homes, and decided to help them. She founded a mobile school for the blind and then she started a mobile blind school, where she travelled to the homes of blind people in the nooks and corners of the state, trying to impart training to them, in all necessary skills.

She has provided training in mobility, confidence, communication, daily living skills, Braille, access technology and more. The NGO Jyothirgamaya, which she has founded, aims to empower blind people and especially blind women. She sensitizes companies to make web content accessible according to the web content accessibility guidelines.

Her aim is to empower the blind people to live their lives independently, to travel independently, to use the Internet. With her organisation she enables them to see through their inner eyes, while challenging the status quo. That way, she wants to break the charity model and change people’s attitudes and mindsets.

She has conducted many sensitization sessions in India as well as in Nepal, Poland, Germany and Belgium. She believes that there is nothing a blind person can’t do except driving a car and that soon shall be achieved at some point! As an activist, she has raised her voice for her community, in trying to make the currency notes accessible for the blind. She sensitizes companies to make web content accessible according to the web content accessibility guidelines. She has also participated in the “National Consultation for Inclusive Elections” and always advocates inclusion. She favours inclusive travel and tourism and has given her valuable inputs to the tourism department to make tourism accessible and barrier free.

Tiffany has inter alia delivered several Ted talks and a speech at the EU parliament. She has received the Indian National Award for the Best Role Model, the Indian Real Hero Award, the Kerala State Award for the Best Institution for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, the Spindle NOW-Us! (NOthing about us Without Us) Award, the Spirit Award from World Pulse as well as the Make a Difference Award and the Vocational Excellence Award from Rotary International. She was selected to be an INK fellow in 2019, and Jyothirgamaya has been attributed consultative status by the UN ECOSOC.