Online junior college admission forms give students 30 options, but for Akansha Jadhav, 16, there are only four colleges to choose from. A visually impaired student of New English School, Bandra, Jadhav was shocked to learn that only four city colleges have self-vision centres. Self-vision centres cater to visually impaired students and are equipped with open source screen reading software, screen magnifying tools, and a data bank of Braille notes and audio academic CDs. Certain centres also store newspapers and novels in Braille to ensure that the students are aware of general affairs.
“My father helped me go through the online admission booklet in detail,” said Jadhav. “I was shocked to know that only four out of the 800 colleges in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have fully-equipped self-vision centres.”
The four city colleges that have fully-equipped centres are St Xavier’s College, Dobi Talao, Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga, Wilson College, Charni Road, and SIES College, Sion.
These colleges cater to the needs of barely 130 out of the 350 visually challenged students in the city. The remaining students have to follow a tedious routine of borrowing notes from classmates and submitting it to the education department of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), which converts them to Braille notes.
“Colleges that don’t house these centres claim that they don’t have a minimum of 10 disabled persons, including persons with visual impairment, hearing impairment, and locomotors disability in its various courses, which has been enumerated in the Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs (HEPSN) scheme,” said Dr Suhas Karnik, honorary secretary, NAB. “Hence, they choose not to establish a centre, in spite of being eligible to seek a grant from the University Grants Commission (UGC) for establishing and maintaining it,” he said, adding that the students in turn, refrain from joining such colleges. “It is a vicious circle.”
“The university rule makes it obligatory for us to make special arrangements in the college premises, both architecturally and academically for the convenience of the visually challenged students,” said Marie Fernandes, principal, St Andrew’s College.
“It has been more than four years since we have had a visually impaired student studying in our college and hence, we haven’t felt the need to make any changes,” she added.
Even in the case of the existing centers, the need to update software regularly and print Braille material to distribute to students is expensive. “The UGC provides only 2% to 3% of the total cost incurred in setting up and maintaining the centres,” said Sam Taraporewala, director, Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), which is the country’s biggest self-vision facility. “The software and machines need to be regularly updated. They are imported from the US through a local dealer and is funded by the college or private sponsors,” he added, claiming that running the facility was more expensive than establishing it.
In the case of the Andrew’s Vision Centre in Wilson College, students from the boys’ hostel raised the initial amount of Rs8 lakh by organising a three-day fest in 2008.
“We have been raising money privately through our students and alumni and are yet to explore the funding provided by the UGC,” said professor Sam Skariah, warden, Andrew’s Boys’ Hostel, who runs the centre. The centre housed only two students when it began, but today caters to 11.
The city’s oldest facility, the Prajnya Vision Centre is located in SIES College, Sion. “When we established the centre in 1979, we had only two students. However, today, we attend to the needs of 23 students,” said Dr Harsha Mehta, principal, SIES College.