Meet Tiffany Brar – Founder of Jyothirgamaya Foundation, and recipient of The Nari Shakti Puraskar 2022 – a visionary who herself is vision-challenged.

Her LinkedIn profile reads, “Becoming blind due to the negligence of the Doctor, was indeed a setback for my parents, but somehow, a blessing in disguise for me! ” This 31-year-old visually-challenged disability rights activist, motivational speaker, special educator, social & gender activist and entrepreneur is on a mission to empower her blind peers through her Jyothirgamaya Foundation. Based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, this blind mobile school works towards empowering blind people to take life in to their own hands, find their own voices, help them integrate them in to mainstream society and sensitize people towards accepting them. 

On International Women’s Day 2022, she received the Nari Shakti Puraskar Award, one of the highest civilian awards in India, from the Honorable President Shri Ram Nath Kovind. This was an acknowledgment for her inner passion towards gender equality, gender mainstreaming, enabling women with visual impairment to stand up and be aware of their rights, and her advocating efforts for inclusion and accessibility. 

Early life & Education

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She was born as the only child to General Tej Pratap Singh Brar (now retired) and the late Leslie Brar on 14 September 1988. She became blind due to carelessness of a doctor, and lost her sight six months after birth. As her father was serving in the Military and was posted in many places, she became multilingual and learned to speak five Indian languages fluently in her childhood. When he began serving as a Brigadier at the Pangode Military Camp in 1995, she grew up in Trivandrum, the state capital of Kerala. In Spite of her disability and constant discriminations from teachers & peers, she managed to score high marks in the CBSE board examinations. She completed her Degree in English Literature from Kerala University and then her Bachelor’s in Education in special education from RamaKrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Coimbatore. 

She studied and worked in Kanthari, a school for budding social entrepreneurs from marginalized communities from across the world, which is run by Savriye Tenverken and Paul Kronenverg.

After her studies, she started working as a Receptionist and met several blind persons facing similar issues as hers. This prompted her to start a mobile blind school in 2012, which follows the motto that “if blind can’t go to school, let the school go to them”. She has traveled across Kerala to train many blind men and women towards mobility, confidence, communication, daily living skills, Braille, access technology and so on.

An adventurer at heart, Tiffany broke the barriers for blind people with her enthusiasm for life. She has done skydiving, paragliding, tandem cycling, rope climbing and a lot more and encourages her blind friends to explore such activities as well. 

She is also vocal about how Covid has affected the disabled persons and how Home-Covid-test kits are not blind-friendly. “We need to touch things frequently to access our environment. Social distancing is not easy for us as we require additional support. I went to New Delhi last month to attend a few programmes there. By the time I returned home, I tested Covid positive. Just because I have a house and a room of my own, my Vineetha Akka (her caretaker since childhood) and her children, I didn’t find it difficult to move on. But that’s not the case with many out there,” says Tiffany (sic). 

Jyothirgamaya (Sanskrit meaning: lead me to the light)

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Her Jyothirgamaya Foundation trains visually-impaired people to become self-reliant, and  has played an integral role in empowering the blind and blind women empowerment. Students are empowered in all possible spheres of life, through need-based individualized training in all necessary skills like cane techniques, climbing steps, Braille reading and writing, and all soft skills, especially in “Interview Preparation”. The foundation also helps train people in personal grooming, interpersonal skills, cooking, spoken English, currency note identification, using gadgets, and playing chess, yoga among other skill areas. Tiffany also trains them in computers, internet, social media, Maths and languages and has impacted at least 200 blind persons, to become self-reliant. The Foundation has trained over 1100 students, from ages 10 to 40.

From 2019, Jyothirgamaya is offering vocational training like basket weaving, making dream catchers and others. In 2019, Jyothirgamaya Foundation received “The Spindle-Now Us Award” for our inclusive initiative. In 2019, it was honored by the state award for the best organization working in the field of visual impairment, on account of INTERNATIONAL DISABILITY DAY. 

Tiffany also runs a preparatory school/kindergarten for visually-challenged children. (currently not functioning due to the pandemic situation)

Awards & Accolades

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Tiffany Brar is the winner of several prestigious awards including the Holman Prize 2020 from the LightHouse for the Blind, USA. The Indian President addressed her as “THE COURAGEOUS DAUGHTER OF INDIA”, at his address to the country at the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities in December, 2017. He also presented her with the National Award for the Best Role Model” instituted by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan) under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment“. She has also received felicitation from the renowned Late DR.APJ.Abdul Kalam. 

Tiffany has delivered five Ted talks on various inclusion topics. She has been trained by the “Mobility International USA” in leadership and women’s empowerment. She has also been trained in echolocation, a unique aspect of mobility and navigation by “World Access for the Blind”. She has conducted many sensitization sessions in India as well as in Nepal, Poland, Germany and Belgium. She has also participated in the “National Consultation for Inclusive Elections” and always advocates inclusion. 

Epilogue

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I imagine a world where people with disabilities live with dignity and have easy access to information and resources, where they take on the world and the challenges they face in leadership roles”, Tiffany says. We support her in her mission to provide the visually impaired, with an equal opportunity to live as every other citizen does. More power to her !

Article submitted by,

Deepa Perumal

COO – PEAKS Academy

Author, Manager, “Entrepreneur-in-progress”

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