PAUL MUDDHA has about an hour before he reports for duty in his regular day job as a senior manager in charge of a call centre for Canara Bank in Bengaluru. “I hope this shirt I am wearing is alright if you are planning to take photographs,” says the 48-year-old, who was born visually impaired and was abandoned in a school for the blind as a child. Muddha is seated in a corner room of an old house in east Bengaluru, which he has converted into a centre for equipping people with vision and hearing impairment with computer and vocational skills that are “mandatory in the modern world to earn a living and to be independent”.
Drawing from his own early struggle, Muddha is determined to help as many differently abled people as possible. Between his job at the bank and a family life, Muddha has over the last nine years attempted to enable blind and hearing impaired youth from Karnataka and other states adapt to a world “disrupted and reorganised” by technology.
Every year, Muddha’s centre trains 75-80 visually impaired people, and more recently those with hearing impairment, to use technology and obtain jobs needing computer and communication skills. He also runs three hostels for the blind — one at the training centre, another nearby and a third in the northern Karnataka town of Rannebennur.
Over the years, trainees supported by Muddha and Snehadeep have found jobs in tech companies like CISCO, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, banks and private agencies. Some of them have become lawyers, lecturers and even chartered accountants. The centre also teaches life skills to the blind. With demonetisation, he says, this training has now expanded to net banking, mobile banking and plastic money.
“Twenty years ago, blind people were employed only in telephone booths, for weaving cane chairs or for teaching music. Changes brought about by computer technology has changed their lives in the same way that it has changed the lives of all,’’ says Muddha.
“With the advent of computer technology and speech technologies, I can confidently say that blind people and others who are physically challenged can contribute to society, the workplace and the environment. The blind may not be able to see but what a person with vision can do on a computer can be now be done by a visually impaired person through speech,’’ he says.
“We have created facilities to enable a disabled person to do well in life. One of our trainees is employed in CISCO and earns a salary of Rs 1.2 lakh per month. There is no limit to the jobs a blind person can do due to technology,” says Muddha.
The training centre runs two programmes over six and nine months to provide students with computer knowledge and English skills. Muddha generates funds for the centre and three hostels he runs for the disabled from philanthropists and Corporate Social Responsibility funds.
“Since we started in 2008, we have trained around 850 blind youths and supported around 12,000 to 15,000 differently abled — mentally challenged, hearing impaired and visually impaired — by giving them educational support, boarding facilities, aids and equipment,” says Muddha.
After spending his early years as an orphan at the Divine Life Trust for the Blind, Muddha was adopted by a Bengaluru family when he was in Class VIII and supported in pursuing an MA in economics and an MBA. He also got married with the help of his foster family and has two grown-up children.
At school, Muddha was among the first bunch of visually impaired children attempting to integrate in a regular school. “I was like a test case in a laboratory when I was sent to a normal school with normal children. I struggled to cope. The teachers were very hesitant to touch me, help me cross the road, take me around. It took a while for people to accept us,’’ he says.
“That stint gave me a regular life and a lot of children who were part of the integrated education programme. It helped expand our thinking, taught us English communication, reading and writing,’’ says Muddha.
“It’s because of the support that I have received over the years from people and society that I wanted to do the same for youngsters in the same situation — desperately looking for education, hostel facilities and all that. I am mainly focusing on the blind because I know their struggle but we have also started looking at the hearing impaired and disabled as well,’’ he says.
At the bank, Muddha handles around 10,000 customers every day and has 35 co-workers in his division. “People wonder how a blind man can work in a bank as a manager or even a clerk… how he handles transactions, how he differentiates currency. It is very easy once you master speech technologies and when you know how to use the keyboard. I am in charge of the marketing division and the call centre,’’ he says.
When Muddha is not at the bank he is mostly at his training centre, trouble-shooting, working the phones to find donors and encouraging trainees.
Apart from the centre and hostels, Muddha recently started a centre for the visually impaired in north Karnataka focused mainly on the girl child. “Most of the girls who are visually impaired and physically challenged are made to sit at home in north Karnataka. There is ignorance and social stigma. Families are viewed as being part of a lower strata if they have a handicapped child. They even hide their children as a result,’’ he says.
On his journey so far, Muddha says he is “happy but there is still a lot to be done”. “I need to increase the number of people that we help. I want more of them to live with dignity and become taxpayers like me.”