In each issue of beyond the I, this column presents a first hand account of a visually-impaired person's experiences in the realworld. In this issue, Anand Sharma recounts some problems he faced during his college-going years
At the risk of stating the obvious, let me say that the educational system in the country is grossly ill-equipped to handle the educational needs of blind or visually impaired children. I have many bitter-sweet memories, some of which I would like to share with you.
I studied up to Std. X at the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, in Dehradoon (Hindi medium). I completed my pre-university course from the English medium Vijaya Junior College, Bangalore. Then I did my graduation in English Literature from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. You can estimate the effectiveness of the system I went through when I confess that, in college, I did not know what ‘nostril’ meant.
One of the most frustrating times is when a blind student has to wander in search of suitable scribes to write answers in examinations. I too have faced this problem, what with visiting quite a few schools in my search. Imagine my plight when, at the last minute, a scribe does not turn up. Rather than concentrating on the exam, I would be running around for a replacement. This happened to me during my B.Ed. course, when I had to settle with a scribe from the Hindi medium even though the exam was supposed to be in English. What would you do when you know that a large part of your result is determined not by your performance, but by someone else’s?
My B.Ed. course was a very challenging one, since I had to manage everything on my own. Many times, I found myself juggling three things: managing funds, attending classes and doing assignments. I used to go to the Arts Faculty library for accessing study material through the Internet, due to which I missed many classes. Another problem was that though the Central Institute of Education, or C.I.E., has a computer lab and computers in the library, they are reserved only for M.Ed. students. So there I could not access the library at all. Sadly, most educational institutions lack enough copies or have books which are in bad shape. The solution is simple: all the books should be available as digital versions so blind students can read them.
Another oddity was that the Braille printers and Braille material were kept in the computer lab rather than in the main library. One could access it only when the former was open.
I am proud to say, however, that the C.I.E. has some truly experienced and dedicated lecturers. Dr. Geeta Sahani, of the English department, comes to mind. She probably has more energy then her students. She is very thorough in her work -- something that I had never witnessed before in my educational journey. Even if you turn in an assignment of 5,000 words or more, she checks each and everything -- you will not find any word or punctuation mark left unread or unseen. Her enthusiasm and commitment is incredible. She is my ideal of what a teacher should be like.
The following steps would make college a better experience for visually impaired students:
- Special institutions for visually impaired persons should be inspected regularly, preferably without any prior notice.
- The college building and environment should be disabled-friendly.
- Blind students should not be stopped from participating in sports activity or college tours.
- It should be the responsibility of the college authorities, not of the student, to arrange for scribes for exams.
- There should be at least one centralised and well-equipped library, open six days a week, preferably from early morning to late at night, as in J.N.U (Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi).
- At least one workshop/seminar should be conducted every year to guide teachers/lecturers about addressing the needs of disabled students.
There are many solutions, many helping hands, many technologies. What is lacking is sincere implementation and strong vision. Let us be optimistic, and contribute in whatever capacity we can. Only then can we fight against the odds and create a better world.
Do you have an 'everyday' experience you would like to recount? Write in to us at.