In this seventy-eight archive story by Kristian Bertel, we are focusing on blindness in India with this portrait of an Indian man in Delhi, India. Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
India is now home to the world's largest number of blind people and of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India. This photograph is picturing an Indian man in Delhi, India. One of the many things the photographer is truly inspired by as a photographer visiting India, are the many fascinating faces which are meeting me wherever he goes.
India is now home to the world's largest number of blind people and of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India. This photograph is picturing an Indian man in Delhi, India. One of the many things the photographer is truly inspired by as a photographer visiting India, are the many fascinating faces which are meeting me wherever he goes.

Blind people of India

The problems of blind and visually impaired people in India range from lack of basic necessities to global issues like denying the right of social inclusion and the prevailing social stigma attached to it. The points that the photographer is stating below are just few of the many issues that blind and visually impaired persons deal with in India.

What is the problem of blindness in India?
As a photographer and traveler in India it is hard to ignore that being blind in India is a hard condition to have and the main problem is that the society is ignorant and has little to no awareness about the difference between a blind and a visually impaired person. A blind person is the one who can either see nothing or can distinguish between certain things like whether there is light or no light in a room and with that being said, every person's blindness differs and a visually impaired person is someone who can see to a certain degree. Some people have more vision loss than others and the kind of blindness depends on the type of eye disease one suffers from. For instance a person who has glaucoma loses peripheral vision while a person suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa or Age related Macular degeneration loses central vision. Lack of disabled friendly infrastructure and transportation facilities that are ideally provided by the government and there is also lack of or limited braille printed books in public libraries and in schools or colleges. Speaking of schools and colleges, the education system is so flawed that the basic fundamentals rights of people with blindness and other disabilities are very conveniently neglected and or denied in the name of lack of properly trained teachers or lack of resources. That being said, the opportunity of inclusion and sensitization towards blind or visually impaired and other disabled groups is taken away from the society in turn promoting exclusion desensitization. A very small number of blind schools and blind institutions are available in India which lack decent facilities. Statistically, a large percentage of blind and visually impaired persons are unemployed and uneducated in India. In many rural parts of India, blindness is considered a curse because of beliefs like sins committed in past lives and people suffering from blindness or any other kind of birth defects are tortured or sometimes killed due to superstitious beliefs. There is little to no knowledge of the various schemes granted by government to people with disabilities in most parts of India. Lack of proper health care in villages leads to blindness which can be otherwise prevented or cured.

"Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India. What's worse, 75% of these are cases of avoidable blindness, thanks to the country's acute shortage of optometrists and donated eyes for the treatment of corneal blindness. While India needs 40,000 optometrists, it has only 8,000"

What are the leading causes of blindness in India?
Visual impairment, also known as vision impairment or vision loss, is a decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses. Some also include those who have a decreased ability to see because they do not have access to glasses or contact lenses. Visual impairment is often defined as a best corrected visual acuity of worse than either 20/40 or 20/60. The term blindness is used for complete or nearly complete vision loss.Visual impairment may cause people difficulties with normal daily activities such as driving, reading, socializing and walking. The most common causes of visual impairment globally are uncorrected refractive errors, cataracts and glaucoma. Refractive errors include near sighted, far sighted, Presbyopia and Astigmatism. Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness. Other disorders that may cause visual problems include age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, corneal clouding, childhood blindness and a number of infections. Visual impairment can also be caused by problems in the brain due to stroke, premature birth or trauma among others. These cases are known as cortical visual impairment. Screening for vision problems in children may improve future vision and educational achievement. Some people who fall into this category can use their considerable residual vision, their remaining sight, to complete daily tasks without relying on alternative methods. The role of a low vision specialist optometrist or ophthalmologist is to maximize the functional level of a patient's vision by optical or non-optical means. Primarily, this is by use of magnification in the form of telescopic systems for distance vision and optical or electronic magnification for near tasks. People with significantly reduced acuity may benefit from training conducted by individuals trained in the provision of technical aids. Low vision rehabilitation professionals, some of whom are connected to an agency for the blind, can provide advice on lighting and contrast to maximize remaining vision and these professionals also have access to non-visual aids and can instruct patients in their uses.

The subjects making the most use of rehabilitation instruments, who lived alone, and preserved their own mobility and occupation were the least depressed, with the lowest risk of suicide and the highest level of social integration. Those with worsening sight and the prognosis of eventual blindness are at comparatively high risk of suicide and thus may be in need of supportive services. Many studies have demonstrated how rapid acceptance of the serious visual handicap has led to a better, more productive compliance with rehabilitation programs. Moreover, psychological distress has been reported to be at its highest when sight loss is not complete, but the prognosis is unfavorable. Therefore, early intervention is imperative for enabling successful psychological adjustment.

How do blind people survive in India?
Many people with serious visual impairments can travel independently, using a wide range of tools and techniques. Orientation and mobility specialists are professionals who are specifically trained to teach people with visual impairments how to travel safely, confidently, and independently in the home and the community. These professionals can also help blind people to practice travelling on specific routes which they may use often, such as the route from one's house to a convenience store. Becoming familiar with an environment or route can make it much easier for a blind person to navigate successfully. Tools such as the white cane with a red tip – the international symbol of blindness – may also be used to improve mobility. A long cane is used to extend the user's range of touch sensation. It is usually swung in a low sweeping motion, across the intended path of travel, to detect obstacles. However, techniques for cane travel can vary depending on the user and or the situation. Some visually impaired persons do not carry these kinds of canes, opting instead for the shorter, lighter identification cane. Still others require a support cane. The choice depends on the individual's vision, motivation, and other factors. A small number of people employ guide dogs to assist in mobility. These dogs are trained to navigate around various obstacles, and to indicate when it becomes necessary to go up or down a step. However, the helpfulness of guide dogs is limited by the inability of dogs to understand complex directions. The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. In this sense, the handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog to the pilot, who gets them there safely. Some blind people are skilled at echolocating silent objects simply by producing mouth clicks and listening to the returning echoes. It has been shown that blind echolocation experts use what is normally the "visual" part of their brain to process the echoes. Sound is one of the most important senses that the blind or visually impaired use in order to locate objects in their surroundings. A form of Echolocation is used, similarly to that of a bat. Echolocation from a person's perspective is when the person uses sound waves generated from speech or other forms of noise such as cane tapping, which reflect off of objects and bounce back at the person giving them a rough idea of where the object is. This does not mean they can depict details based on sound but rather where objects are in order to interact, or avoid them. Increases in atmospheric pressure and humidity increase a person's ability to use sound to their advantage as wind or any form of background noise impairs it.

How are blind people treated in India?
Social development includes interactions with the people surrounding the infant in the beginning of its life. To a child with vision, a smile from a parent is the first symbol of recognition and communication and is almost an instant factor of communication. For a visually impaired infant, recognition of a parent's voice will be noticed at approximately two months old, but a smile will only be evoked through touch between parent and baby. This primary form of communication in India is greatly delayed for the child and will prevent other forms of communication from developing. Social interactions are more complicated because subtle visual cues are missing and facial expressions from others are lost. Due to delays in a child's communication development, they may appear to be disinterested in social activity with peers, non-communicative and uneducated on how to communicate with other people. This may cause the child to be avoided by peers and consequently overprotected by family members.

"Blind people cannot distinguish real faces from false ones after a healing eye operation. But her brain turns around amazingly fast. For some blind people in India it is a nice pastime to arrange the food on the plate for faces"

Your brain has acquired the important ability to distinguish between human faces and facial-like patterns as early as the first few months of life. But what if a baby lacks the sight of a baby from birth and suddenly sees it years later, for instance after an operation? As a team from India now report that blind boys and girls do not know after a healing of their eyes, whether a person actually hides behind a pattern of facial features or whether it is just an arrangement of typical features resembling a face. You can still learn facial recognition despite your advanced age. The researchers were able to show this to five Indian children and adolescents who had been blinded by a bilateral lens opacification from infancy. After the surgical correction of these so-called Cataracts with artificial lenses, photos of faces and non-faces were shown to the 9- to 17-year-olds. Although the images of the non-faces were partially blurred and very vaguely resembling real persons, it was initially impossible for the young patients to recognize that they were merely patterns. Normal-sighted children were able to identify the real faces even by strong distortion films with high accuracy. However, a few weeks after the operation, the results of the image tests looked quite different: The previously blind children caught up with their healthy comrades until they could just as well distinguish between faces and non-faces. This also happened independently of the visual acuity of the five subjects, which often remains low after surgery.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a blind man in Delhi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.