Karan Nagrani uses social media to raise awareness of ‘specter of blindness’

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What comes to mind when you think of blindness? Is it a person wearing dark sunglasses, possibly with a cane, or a guide dog?

There are certainly people with vision loss who fit this bill, but for many others, their experience of blindness isn’t quite as black and white.

Karan Nagrani is legally blind, but if you saw him on the street, you probably wouldn’t know it.

Karan Nagrani wants people to know that blindness affects people in different ways.(Provided: Karan Nagrani)

Diagnosed at the age of 11 with a degenerative genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa, the 36-year-old has only a fraction of his vision left.

“It starts with night blindness and loss of side vision, then the center [vision] is starting to be affected,” Nagrani said.

“When people look ahead, they see 180 degrees…I see less than three degrees, and at night it’s completely dark.”

From his home in Albany, a coastal town in southern Australia, Mr Nagrani has made it his mission to educate people about what he calls the “specter of blindness”.

“I think people have this misconception that if you’re blind, your eyes don’t look normal,” he said.

“I can still make eye contact because I can still see a bit, so people are a bit confused.”

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When meeting new people, Mr Nagrani said he often felt like he had to “convince” them of his disability.

“I feel a sense of fear until I convince them I have a disability because I don’t want to be called a cheater.

“It’s the fear that people will say, ‘His eyes look normal, he’s making eye contact, I think he’s faking it’.”

Knowing there would come a day when he would lose his sight, he didn’t let his diagnosis deter him from pursuing the career of his dreams.

“Growing up, I knew I was going to go blind, but I didn’t want to choose a career based on that…I wanted to live my life and do something I love,” he said.

“Being creative, I got into graphic design and filmmaking, and I did that for 14 years.

“I’m proud to say that I had a very successful career in marketing that I had to give up because I can’t use laptops or computers anymore.”

He always has it

Armed with the knowledge and skills acquired during his career, Mr. Nagrani puts them to good use by creating infographics and videos for social media using his smartphone.

“Growing up, I never saw content that prepared me for what I will or will not see,” he said.

“Now I use my graphic design skills while I still can to create resources that other people use.”

His Instagram account features a sense of humor that didn’t happen entirely by chance.

“Social media is all about entertainment…you can present serious information, within reason, in a fun way.

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“From the responses I get, it’s actually the entertaining and informative posts that are the most engaging because people stop, read, and comment.”

But not everyone on the internet has their positive energy.

“There’s always that person who has something mean to say,” he said.

“I remember posting an article once where I showed people what it’s like to wake up with retinitis pigmentosa…one of the shots was on the balcony, showcasing the beautiful Albany landscape.

“Someone commented, ‘What a waste of such a great view of someone like you.’

“I get those comments, but I actually think it’s a reflection on them, and I’m deleting them.”

Social stigma an obstacle

According to ophthalmology expert Professor William Morgan, people who are blind experience an extra layer of difficulty navigating daily life due to social stigma.

Often patients go to great lengths to look “normal”.

“A lot of people will think they are just normal people and will be irritated and annoyed if they bump into them, for example, or take longer to sit down on a bus because they have to fumble around the seat” , said Professor Morgan. , from the University of Western Australia and chief executive of the Lions Eye Institute in Perth, said.

“Actually, I get these comments from the patients; that they are going to great lengths to nullify the disability as much as possible.”

A smiling man in a lab coat sits at a desk next to a microscope.
Professor William Morgan says more general awareness of blindness is needed.(Provided: Lions Eye Institute)

Prof Morgan said services had improved dramatically for people with visual impairments in recent years, but there was still a long way to go in raising awareness.

“These people are making a huge effort to mix in society, and therefore increase the tolerance [would help, as well as] an awareness of the different types of vision you lose with these broad disease categories.”

For Mr. Nagrani, sharing his personal experience online is about fostering acceptance of all forms of blindness.

“It makes me so happy to see people from all over the world message me, asking if they can share my posts to raise awareness,” he said.

“I feel like even though I had to give up my career in marketing, I find it more fruitful, in the sense that I feel like I’m really making a difference now.”

A man with a vision aid cane stands next to a car with a beach in the background.
Karan Nagrani wants to challenge the stereotype of what a blind person “should look like”.(Provided: Karan Nagrani)
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