An avid singer and a keyboardist, he dreams of joining the civil services someday. Meet Kamal Kumar, a second-year student of history at Stephen’s. Ask him if his disability (visual impairment) interferes with his dreams and he replies, “Only to a physical extent. I can do everything, from checking mails and reading online to socialising with friends on Facebook. Software like Job Access With Speech (JAWS) help a lot.”
Tactile pathways, various software and volunteers are today making life somewhat easier for people with disabilities. “Things are improving; however, the awareness levels of people are still very low. Something needs to be done to help them first of all,” adds Kumar, who recently won the second and third prize in poetry writing and duet singing at the recently concluded cul-fest of the Equal Opportunity Centre (EOC) at Delhi University.
This year, 684 differently-abled students passed the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Class 12 exams. The all-India figure also saw a marginal rise from 1,112 students last year to 1,366 this year. Delhi University has also registered an increase with close to 507 differently-abled students applying to the university this year as compared to 499 last year. The rise in applications for higher education has been gradual over the past many years, the reasons for which are many, the foremost being accessibility.
Anjlee Agarwal, executive director Samarthyam, the national centre for accessible environments has conducted access audits for close to 72 colleges with 140 departments and auditoriums between 2007-09. “Accessibility to everything is the most important aspect that needs to be tackled to improve the numbers of people with disabilities enrolled at the higher education level. It is very sad that even after two years of conducting the audit, not much has been done to upgrade the infrastructure of the college buildings to include the disabled,” says Agarwal. “Most women’s colleges have taken the lead and have been able to do a good job.
However, paucity of funds and the lack of coordination among various bodies have been the biggest impediments to the success of the audits,” she adds.
According to the Dr Chandra Nisha Singh, EOC officer on special duty, things are looking up for people with disabilities. “Most colleges have built tactile pathways, ramps and toilets and many of the visually-impaired are using JAWS. Also, recently the ministry of social justice and empowerment has proposed to extend a sum of Rs 8.50 crore to help make the university buildings disabled-friendly. Soon the university buildings will have a universal design. However, the connecting roads remain a concern area.”
With the ‘examination writing policy for the students with disability’ in place, students feel less worried about their examinations. According to the policy, students shall be allowed extra time, writers, enlarged photocopy of the question paper, sign interpreters and more depending on their disability.
Apart from that, the EOC has also announced admissions to its short-term programmes. The forms are available on the website, at the centre and at colleges and the last date to apply is January 3 while the session commences on January 10, 2012.
Says Dr Singh, “The sole purpose of these short-term programmes is to help build confidence in these students. The programmes help them learn something new and expose them to new ideas, ways of thinking etc. Our programmes, like the sign language, are open to all students of the university.”
Even when so much is being done, the hearing-impaired continue to be the worst hit. “Not much has been done for them. Even at a time when the technology is widely available at competitive prices, most colleges continue to operate without the digitised announcement mode or the digitised sign language,” laments Agarwal.
Agrees Nisha Singh, “There is a dearth of sign language interpreters in the country, which has a direct impact on the hearing impaired. I would request the university to bring sign language in the mainstream and start honours programmes in the language to attract interest in this language.”
Adds Agarwal, “To ensure that students make good use of the facilities and programmes, proper publicity of the same is essentially required. I would request all colleges to highlight the facilities for the disabled (available in their campus) in their prospectus. This would help the disabled take the right decision for themselves.”
Equal opportunity is important. Here are some people who can help:
* Equal Opportunity Cell, University of Delhi: email@example.com / 27662602
* Braille Library: 27667848 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm)
* Dean Student’s Welfare: 27667092 (Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm)
* The National Association for the Blind: 011-64556968/26102944 ext 770
* Anubhuti Mittal: Runs a placement consultancy for persons with disabilities. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Shanti Raghavan: Founder and managing trustee of Enable India. Email email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
nRama Chari, director, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre, Bangalore. You can contact her at email@example.com