Archana Waghmare finished college seven years ago. But the 26-year-old with an orthopedic handicap - polio below the right knee - shudders at the thought of how she spent four years at a Chembur college without lifts or ramps. With lectures being held on the third floor, Waghmare would take half-an-hour to reach her class.
"I had applied to the college requesting them to shift the class to the first floor. But they refused. Forced to take the stairs, I would halt at every floor. There were days when I had to forgo my lunch because the canteen was on the ground floor and toilets were also a problem," said Waghmare who currently works as a data entry operator at the Chembur based National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped.
Post-surgery, Archana now wears a caliper with surgical shoes on her affected leg.
Waghmare's nightmarish experience is not an isolated one. If disability activists are to be believed, 50 per cent colleges in the city are inaccessible and about 50 per cent physically challenged students drop the idea of going to college.
While city colleges have more facilities for the visually impaired and slow learners than they did 10 years ago, for those on wheelchairs or crutches they are still as inaccessible largely due to a paucity of funds. Colleges do not have a separate budget outlay for developing infrastructure for the differently abled.
"Most colleges are not disabled-friendly. The problem is architectural as well as attitudinal. Modifications are not made even if there are disabled in college. But it is usually due to lack of awareness," said Anita Prabhu, co-chairperson, ADAPT, (Able Disabled All People Together) Mumbai.
As a result, most physically challenged students enroll themselves for distance education programmes.
Stating that she was apprehensive of college life, wheelchair bound Anjali Sharma said: "When my dad visited a few colleges in the western suburbs, he found that they had absolutely no facilities. Since I would need someone to assist me all the time, I decided to study from home."
But students like Sharma can take heart. The University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Ninth Five-Year Plan has begun helping universities and colleges with funds to provide infrastructure that will make class rooms, toilets, laboratories accessible for the disabled.
So, currently making changes to its 18th century Indo-Gothic building and campus under the UGC scheme is St. Xavier's College, which has received a Rs 5 lakh grant. The college is soon going to build ramps, construct two wheelchair-friendly toilets and put markers.
Other colleges too are making an effort in the direction. Mithibai College for instance, is undergoing renovation in order to add three storeys to the existing structure.
"After the overhaul, we are going to put ramps and a few toilets that are accessible to the disabled," said Principal Kiran Mangaonkar.
Ruia College too has added ramps to classrooms and toilets but it's not yet "completely accessible" according to principal Suhas Pednekar.
(Inputs by Gouri Balachandran)