Prashant and Veena Verma - Part 1

They met at NAB (National Association for the Blind) in Delhi, India, in December 2000. Prashant Ranjan Verma had recently started working at NAB as a Computer Trainer and Veena Mehta joined as a trainee (she was also attending university). Photograph of Prashant and Veena Verma taken in January 2008
Their personalities are quite different, and perhaps that is what attracted them to each other. In 2001, about one year later, they decided that they would marry once Veena had completed her studies and found employment. These two young people have been recognized many times for their achievements and have been acknowledged as role models. Their story is about challenges and hopes, drive and persistence.

Prashant & Veena

We are quite different people with different backgrounds and characteristics. I was born in West Bengal (a state in the eastern region of India) in 1975 and Veena was born in Orissa (a state on the east coast of India now called Odisha) in 1978. Our life journeys before we met were not at all similar, and our goals and aspirations are also quite different. However we are both driven to not only achieve, but to help others.

National Association for the Blind - NAB, New Delhi, IndiaAlthough in 2001 we had decided to marry, we did not do so until November 2005 after Veena had completed her MBA and started working in the Human Resources department of an IT company after, and I had become the Assistant Manager at NAB Delhi. We were both very busy over those four years, but that time seemed to go by very slowly. Before we tell you a bit about ourselves and how we came to be where we are today, I will mention that Veena is blind and I have a visual disability. If this were not true, we would quite likely never have met and never have fallen in love. Sometimes life has a strange way of bringing people together.

Veena: the Younger Years

I was born blind. My parents looked upon me as a disabled daughter who they expected to have to support all their lives. They had no faith or hope in a future for me. But that is not how I saw myself or my future, that is not what I wanted my life to be. When I was a child, I never got much support. Sometimes support is all that people need to make a difference in their lives. I meet so many people who are insecure. They just lack support. I did not have anyone to support me. I would just talk to myself and find support from within myself. So, I took charge of my life and took it in the direction I wanted it to go.

I did not begin my formal education until I was 13 years of age – much later than most. Even in secondary school I was focused on subjects such as political science, mathematics and economics, so to me it seemed quite natural to go into business studies in university. In 2000 I received a Bachelor of Commerce in accounts, economics, business organisation, and business law & company law – these were not subjects that someone who was blind was expected to study, in fact they are subjects considered to be very difficult for someone who is blind and in India they have been attempted by only a very a few.

I faced numerous challenges including fighting legal battles with leading universities when I was seeking admission into an MBA programme. Two universities denied me admission, saying that there was no provision for admitting blind persons into their MBA courses. I would not give up – I had decided that I wanted a high level career in human resources and to do so I needed an MBA in HR studies. Along with NAB in Delhi, I filed a complaint about this discrimination with the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. I am happy to say that since then most management colleges have opened their doors to visually impaired persons.

The lack of braille books and the highly inadequate inclusive educational environment did not hold me back either. I studied labour law, industrial relations, personnel management and social security part-time and received a diploma in Industrial Relations & Personnel Management in 2002. Later, in 2004 I received a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management in Human Resource, Marketing & Finance. I was fortunate to have received two scholarships, the Dr. H.E. Shulza & Marva Shulza Merit Scholarship (from Germany) during my post graduate years and another from the government of India Department of Social Welfare upon graduation.

Prashant: the Younger Years

I remember the doctor breaking the bad news: a rare fungal infection from my contact lenses had left me 90 per cent blind. I was 19 and had just enrolled for a foundation course in chartered accountancy, and suddenly, it seemed like the end of the road – I thought my dreams were dashed.

It took me over a year to come to terms losing most of my vision. I underwent an operation but it didn't help. The retina was completely damaged. My family tried everything they could, things like alternative medicine and consulting a string of doctors. They could not accept it. I had to discontinue my studies and remained confined to the house. It was very, very depressing.

Between 1994 and 2000, I was doing a variety of things – setting up a cable TV business, a catering business with a friend – but nothing worked because I found it difficult to manage on my own. It was much later that I realised that with the right technology, someone who is visually impaired can find a way. The doctors didn't steer me in the direction of assistive technology, the direction that eventually would turn my life around.

The turning point in my life came in 2000 when I visited NAB – the National Association for the Blind in New Delhi. I started a computer training course there and got acquainted with a special screen-reading software that enabled people who are visually impaired to read and work on computers. I put all my efforts into learning about new software and would work in the NAB computer lab even after my classes were over. It was amazing – I realized that it wasn't the end of the road – my life had just taken a different path. It was at NAB that I was introduced to DAISY. I am now a consultant and one of my roles is to provide training and technical support with the DAISY Consortium.

Our Paths Meet

Photograph of Prashant and Veena Verma, July 2011 Veena and I met at NAB. I was training people who were visually impaired how to use specialised computer software. Veena had come to NAB to learn how to use that same software. It was five long years from the time we met until the day we married.

Prashant likes Veena's outspoken nature, and says that she is very charming and very positive about life. He thinks that she is a great homemaker, a very good cook and is extremely independent. She is the only woman in India who is blind to have received an MBA. Veena says that Prashant is highly committed, that he is expert in his work. She likes the fact that he is cool tempered and mature, and that he helps her by way of keeping their home in order. In Part 2 of their story, Prashant and Veena tell us a bit about their very simple marriage ceremony (simple in terms of Indian weddings which usually span several days) about their careers, hobbies, aspirations and their lives together.