A ‘Khaas’ startup where blind staffers help travellers see the world
Around Diwali last year, corporate trainer Akash Bhardwaj was out shopping when he saw a nearly blind woman, with scars on her face, selling balloons. She had a small baby . Her husband had abandoned her after a neighbour disfigured her face with acid. She had also lost her job as a security guard.“She asked me, `Jis aurat ko muh dekh ke nikaal diya, usko kaun naukri dega (Who will employ a woman sacked because of a disfigured face)?’“ says Bhardwaj, 31.
The encounter became a trigger for Bhardwaj’s entrepreneurial journey . He launched a travel firm, Khaas, and then a gift-courier firm, Khaas Uphaar, both run entirely by visually impaired women. He plans to employ four acid-attack survivors in two months. Bhardwaj, a consulting corporate trainer and a freelance travel agent, sold his bike and wife’s jewellery to set up the enterprises six months ago. Today , the companies employ five women -Kamlesh, Archana, Dipti, Prema and Nirmal -all of them visually impaired.
All work is done by these women -from making appointments and helping with presentations, to closing deals and even accompanying the groups on trips, if required.They are also starting to prepare and courier gift items.
The women operate their PCs with the help of JAWS (job access with speech), a software that helps visually impaired people read. They have also begun using smartphones and, in the past month, have confirmed 20-25 appointments and finalised two tours. One of the employees, Archana, 34, has a masters in home science. She lost her vision due to medical negligence during a brain tumour operation when she was 23. Kamlesh, another staffer, is a post-graduate in political science from Jamia University . Among the other employees, Prema is studying in BA third year from DU’s School of Open Learning. Dipti is a postgraduate in political science while Nirmal, 33, is a widow and a mother of an eight-yearold girl. All the women say they enjoy coming to the office, working together, meet ing new people and chatting about various issues. Some of them stay in hostels because their families live elsewhere.
“We have a very small office on the fourth floor of a building in Laxmi Nagar, east Delhi. Since it’s difficult for the visually impaired girls to go up and down the stairs, we are looking for a larger space on the ground floor,“ says Bhardwaj, adding that he was also looking for funds to purchase equipment for his staff.
“None of my friends, neighbours or relatives supported me in setting up these ventures, except for my father and wife,“ says Bhardwaj.
What has kept him going, he says, is the trust he has in his special employees. “Inke pas roshni nahin hain par yeh logon ko duniya ki sayar karayenge (They can’t see but they will help tourists see the world,“ he adds with a smile.