After losing her eyesight, woman launches online radio to help 10K Diff-Capable find a job, love
MAnish Agarwal has suffered from vision problems due to retinal deformation since childhood. During his growing years his addiction to glasses increased, and by the time he reached Class X the disease had become so severe that he had to drop out of school.
Instead, he started spending time in a fabric store run by his father. In 2013, he lost his sight completely. At the same time, he lost his will to live, he says. âI became severely depressed because I didn’t have a social life, my friends had drifted away from me, and no one around me could sympathize or understand the pain I was in,â he says.
However, in 2017 he stumbled across a Facebook page, Radio Udaan, an online radio platform. Here he found many people like him who suffered from various disabilities. They had created a support system for each other to help each other lead meaningful lives. He participated in their conversations on social media and via video calling apps.
Now, at the age of 34, Manish is pursuing his studies in the arts and preparing for government jobs. âMy life changed after I connected with the radio crew. The members inspired and motivated me. They helped me acquire computer skills and allowed me to discover the opportunities available for the visually impaired. Thanks to the radio, I now have friends all over the world, âhe says. The best India.
Like Manish, at least 10,000 people have married, looked for work, learned computer skills, became singers, artists and acquired various skills through Radio Udaan.
Share each other’s pain
Hyderabad-based radio director Meenal Singhvi said the idea to launch the platform came from the need to help the disability community as a whole.
Meenal herself lost her sight at the age of 28. She realized that there would be many like her who needed support and encouragement.
âIn 2007, I lost my sight while being treated for low blood pressure. I fell into a coma and recovered a few days later, only to realize that I had lost my sight. I was a housewife and everyone in my family accepted that my life was confined to the four walls of the house, âshe recalls.
Now 43, Meenal says that over the next two years, her family made sure to provide her with everything she needed and asked for. âI never left my room and spent my time watching TV or being alone. The doctors hoped that my vision could be restored. This happened for a brief period on three occasions. I was hopeful too. However, in 2009, the doctors advised me and said my eyesight might never come back, âshe says.
She adds that although this news caused her immense pain, she decided that she couldn’t spend the rest of her life in bed. âI learned that visually impaired people can learn computer skills. I asked my husband to provide me with one. A friend of mine helped install the required software that helps the blind by voice, and I started learning in 2010, âshe says.
Meenal’s horizons widened, and she began to access information and make friends with special abilities. âI joined groups and learned that many people were dealing with issues of emotional disconnection, depression and lack of support from families, and struggling to cope with life. A few members started to brainstorm ideas to find ways to connect people in the community, âshe adds.
A platform to build a better life
âWe were firm on not creating an NGO. Eventually we realized that there was no media platform dedicated to people with disabilities, âshe said, adding that she and a Danish visually impaired Mahajan from Punjab, whom she met online, launched. Radio Udaan in 2014.
Meenal adds that on the first day itself, the radio recorded around 1,000 listeners. Slowly the team grew to six as people began to offer to help design the website, create content, manage the technical aspects and manage other aspects of the operations.
The first month saw 5,000 listeners, and over the years that number has grown to a steady 45,000 listeners in 119 countries. The shows are accessible via the website, the mobile application, Alexa and Google Home. Content is available in Hindi, Urdu, English, Telugu, and Kannada.
Meenal says the work is voluntary and no one is paid. âWe all have other jobs. I work as a junior assistant in the office of the deputy commissioner. I find the time to do shows all week. We don’t have an office and everyone works from home, âshe adds.
Danes, who is also a clerk at the Punjab Mandi Board, says the radio runs a program called Community Colors to inform listeners about job vacancies for people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. âIt’s the only program dedicated to the community. The other show, Tech City, explains how they can access technology and learn IT operations. It also updates them on new software on the market, âhe says.
Danes, who lost his eyesight at the age of 14, says other programs are starting discussions about disability issues. âWe invite guests from NGOs, businesses, public officials and celebrities to encourage and motivate listeners. It also exposes them to opportunities and helps provide insight into potential skills or career choices they might pursue, âhe adds.
The 32-year-old says that to maintain his audience, the radio runs contests like RJ Hunt to identify the talents of radio jockeys, song contest reality shows, plays, marriage events, broadcast music and organize other engaging programs. The programs are available on Youtube, and the videos get thousands of views.
Create a secure space
Watch Manish perform stand-up comedy
The Danes say they never thought radio would have a huge impact. âWe aimed to reach an audience of 10,000, but we managed to exceed it. All volunteers run their duties alongside full-time jobs. The responsibility for script preparation, content creation, production, editing and uploading rests with the show host. It is a very demanding task. But we all help each other. We have no financial support and occasional donations help us experiment with the programs, âhe says.
He adds that keeping an online radio station to compete with other social media platforms like WhatsApp, where information is shared faster, becomes another challenge. âWe aim to expand our accessibility and hire full-time employees in the future,â says Danish.
“The unique aspect of radio is that it is the only place where we reach out to people with disabilities who are dispersed, live in isolation and expect emotional support and help them improve their lives,” he says. .
Echoing similar sentiments, Manish says, âRadio Udaan was a huge support, especially when I didn’t have any friends and felt alone in the world. Only a specially disabled person can understand the fate of another.
Edited by Divya Sethu