Kabir Nagral ’19 kicked off this year’s CAMD Scholar Series with his presentation, “Blind Justice: A Model for the Socio-Economic Development of the Millions of Visually Impaired Students in India,” last Friday in Kemper Auditorium.
The presentation, featuring a panel of four guest speakers, highlighted Nagral’s research on and proposals for blind justice, a social movement driving the empowerment of the blind in India, Nagral’s home country.
The panel consisted of Randy Pierce, founder of 2020 Vision Quest, Paul Parravano, Co-Director at the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations, Deborah Gleason, Director the the Asia and Pacific Programs at Perkins International, and Rocco Florentino, a student at Belmont University.
Hywot Ayana ’20, an attendee of Nagral’s presentation said, “I learned a lot about how systems that we use in the United States [can be] used to better the rights of people with disabilities, especially blindness… I learned that a lot of blind people in India don’t have the same opportunities as people in the United States, even though there are difficulties with being blind in the United States as well.”
Nagral’s presentation was facilitated by the CAMD Scholars Program, a program run by the Community and Multicultural Development Office (CAMD) at Andover. Students can apply to collaborate with various faculty over the summer break on a research project relating to diversity, equity, and multiculturalism.
“All of these CAMD scholars are so self-motivated. [The Scholars] have an area they are passionate about [that] they want to explore and pursue. And I think it’s great that the CAMD Scholars program offers them this opportunity,” said Jeffrey Kao ’19, an audience member of Nagral’s presentation.
Under the guidance of Susanne Torabi, International Student and Academy Travel Coordinator, and Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Nagral studied blind empowerment and its effect on the visually impaired in the U.S. and India.
In an email to The Phillipian, Barker wrote, “I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work with [someone] like Kabir. I appreciate his passion for this project and interest in using his imagination and gifts of the mind to better the lives of
others less fortunate.”
“I think I would reiterate the call for action Kabir made in his presentation. I think it would be wonderful if more students at [Andover] became interested in social entrepreneurship. I would love to support each and every one,” continued Barker.
During his presentation, Nagral discussed the employment of blind Americans and compared it to that of India, where most blind people are unable to work and face prejudice everyday.
“The drivers behind blind empowerment in the U.S., the trinity of blind empowerment, are well understood: education, equity, and employment. India’s far behind on all three drivers, but a lot can be learned from the U.S. model,” said Nagral during his presentation.
According to Nagral, his interest in the visually impaired began when his sister suffered an accident several years ago that led to temporary blindness. Through this experience, Nagral realized the effect blindness could have on anyone.
“That experience transformed my outlook as I had seen up close what it meant to be visually impaired,” said Nagral.
After researching more about blindness in India, Nagral was shocked by the statistics. According to Nagral, India has the largest number of blind people in the world, including millions of children with vision problems. Nagral said that 99 percent of these blind people are also unemployed.
Nagral hopes that his research will make a difference in India and promote blind activism. Ultimately, Nagral wants to raise the employment rate of visually impaired Indians through awareness and using technology.
First, however, Nagral wants to empower every student at Andover.
“Obviously, not everyone is and should be interested in the area of visual impairment. But, there’s always something that everyone is interested in… an interest [that] leads to actions,” said Nagral in an interview.
Nagral’s research involved many meetings with companies, educators, and blind or visually impaired students. He also worked at schools such as the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged, and the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind.
According to Nagral, he hopes to develop these connections in the future.
While Nagral met many people willing to contribute in his research, he faced several challenges. Nagral said that he faced adults who doubted if his goals were realistic.
“I remember one incident where an administrator at a blind school told me that visually impaired students couldn’t possibly learn math and science beyond the eighth grade and wasn’t supportive of my initiatives. Initially, I was a little [shaken up]. But, I took that incident as inspiration to push myself further and to prove that mindset wrong. I can’t wait for the day that that administrator realizes the mistake they made,” said Nagral.
In the end, Nagral not only completed his CAMD paper but also formed a panel of four adults, all of whom are activists of blind justice and empowerment.