There are 39 million people all over the world who are blind, and about 40 percent of them are from India. Though most such people suffer from afflictions that are curable, the lack of facilities in India makes it much harder for them. It also becomes very difficult to find decent employment opportunities. However, it is encouraging to see many people investing themselves in bettering the lives of those suffering from visual impairments. One such initiative is by the College of Fragrance for the Visually Impaired (COVFI), Mumbai, where they are enabling blind students to build a career for themselves in the perfume industry.
About 25 students have been trained and placed as fragrance evaluators and quality control executives in the last four years. They have been placed in different fragrance firms situated in regions like Mumbai, Raigad, and Pune.
It all began with a survey conducted by a fragrance firm, CPL Aromas, which has its headquarters in the UK. The survey was done to test 50 blind candidates from India on their smelling abilities. It was found that people suffering from visual impairment are better at remembering and determining smells than individuals with perfect vision. It was the beginning of a new journey from then.
Sheetal Desai, the Managing Director of CPL Aromas, told Times of India,
Our survey of 250 candidates showed that the visually impaired were more in tune with smells, as they were focused, not distracted and unbiased.
Renuka Thergaonkar, Head of the Cosmetology and Perfumery Department at V G Vaze College, was then approached by Sheetal, who proposed a structured course to give formal training to blind people for the task. Renuka, in conversation with Times of India, said,
When it comes to evaluating fragrances, it is the fully sighted who are handicapped by biases that come from seeing colour or packaging.
The candidates who apply for this course have to go through an admission test to check whether they can recognise basic smells or not. Once they are through, they are enrolled in a year-long formal training programme. In this training programme, they are given classes for communication, food tasting, and psychology, along with classes on introducing them to and helping them remember different aromas. They also offer a course in a software called JAWS (Job Access With Speech) to give them basic training in computers and emailing.
Chanchal, one of the students in the institution, told the Telegraph,
People were so indifferent there. Here, everyone treats me with respect. I am much better at my job than many of my sighted colleagues. Is job se khud ka ek status ban gaya hai (This job has given me a newfound status).
Time and again, they do face the hardship of finding firms that are not willing to offer opportunities to visually impaired individuals. However, this initiative has definitely done a lot to boost the job opportunities for those suffering from visual impairment. Hopefully, in the years to come, many more firms are going to open up to the idea, and this initiative will inspire others out there to work towards this goal.