One day while flipping through a magazine, a thought hit PR executive Upasana Makati: What do the blind read for leisure? Google searches threw up no answers. Her question led her to the office of the National Association for the Blind (NAB). There were course books, of course, but the visually challenged had no access to lifestyle magazines or light reads.
“I quit my job and in 2013 in collaboration with the NAB launched White Print, a 64-page English-language monthly magazine in Braille,” says Makati, who lives in Mumbai. Starved for light reading material, new subscribers began signing up rapidly. Recently, her initiative was awarded ‘The Innovative Social Enterprise of the Year’ at The TiE Sustainability Summit 2021, the world’s largest sustainability summit designed to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The going hasn’t been easy for this founder and publisher. “The magazine’s title was rejected twice before the third was successfully registered. And content is difficult to come by,” she says, adding that she had no option but to write on culture, food and travel herself. The biggest challenge, of course, was financing. Companies were apprehensive of advertising in a magazine where their products could not be seen—after all, advertisements rely on colour, image and glamour. “Of the initial 200 emails I sent out, I got just one reply,” she says.
The pandemic has brought with it its own share of woes. “To begin with, our press was shut, so we weren’t able to print the magazine for a few months during the first and the second waves. This meant no advertising revenue. Before the pandemic, the magazine had 400 subscribers, which dwindled to 150. So we changed track: during the lockdown we published an accessible e-storybook for children, Flowers for Sunaina, and early this year I turned author and published Run Saba, Run!, an illustrated storybook that busts myths about sports played by persons with blindness,” she says.
As soon as the lockdown was lifted, Makati invited small businesses to try Braille advertising for their brands at a minimal cost. “We were able to cover the printing costs for a few months. The bigger corporate associations we had established pre-pandemic were all lost. To battle the next wave, I was fortunate to get support from Vivarea Gives, a community of generous souls who raised funds for White Print during these unusual times,” she says. The Rotary Club of Bangalore recently subscribed on behalf of over 25 organisations in Karnataka. “Our readership is now over 8,000,” says a Makati of the eight-year-old bootstrapped initiative.
The magazine has articles on politics, sports, entertainment, travel, food and more. “We get contributors from various backgrounds. We recently entered into an editorial association with Unbias the News, a global virtual newsroom focusing on diversity in the media. I strongly believe that the climate crisis deserves a great deal of attention and hence we’ve also associated with Eco-spotlight, a digital publication that celebrates sustainable solutions. Apart from these associations, we have experts and writers on food, culture, history, among others.”
Makati wants to focus on creating more children’s books and content that can further the mission of creating a more inclusive and diverse society. “It’s not that blind readers avoid bookstores. We simply don’t have stores that stock books for them,” she says. She also conducts sensitization workshops for children. “The pandemic gave us the opportunity to take the workshops virtual. This resulted reaching out to tier 2 cities such as Ranchi,” she says. “We need to change perceptions. That, for me, is what success is all about.”