Shraddha Shinde, 16, a Class 10 student of Vikas Vidyalaya in Dadar, studied at the school’s Marathi-medium section since kindergarten. The visually impaired student is neither proficient in Braille nor computers.
“I am very apprehensive about joining a mainstream English-medium junior college because I might feel left out,” said Shinde, who wants to pursue arts in junior college.
Shinde is not the only visually impaired student facing a language hurdle in junior college. Apart from Ramnarain Ruia College, none of the other three self-vision centres are equipped with software for Marathi-medium students.
“A majority of the visually impaired students come from the Marathi medium,” said
Dr Suhas Pednekar, principal, Ramnarain Ruia College, which is the only city college that has a Marathi curriculum for the visually impaired, thereby attracting the largest number of applications.
Currently, the college has 68 students in junior and degree colleges. “We use a software called Shree-Lipi Braille that helps convert Marathi notes into Braille directly, which is time-saving,” he added.
For colleges that do not provide the facility of a Marathi curriculum, it is very difficult. “For the first six months, we teach students English language, and simultaneously train them to use the open source software, ensuring that they become relatively independent,” said Dr Harsha Mehta, principal, SIES College, Sion.
“At such times, students might have a low morale, for it is the first time they are exposed to students in the mainstream, which is why we also counsel them regularly,” she added.
The biggest challenge, however, faced by the centres is preparing Braille notes for students in the degree college.
“Up to the junior college level, the syllabus is structured and doesn’t change for a very long time,” said professor Sam Skariah, who runs the Andrew’s Vision Centre in Wilson College. “As they progress to the degree college, their subject combination differs and their research work and projects are completely new, making it difficult for us to print and store notes afresh,” said Skariah, adding that from this academic year onwards, he has decided to provide laptops to his third-year students to type out running notes during lectures.
“In the next two years or so, we are also hoping to computerise all their exams and notes, which will help us do away with writers and heavy Braille books.”
However, not all centre co-ordinators and principals echo Skariah’s idea. “Just like the rest of us can’t do away with pen and paper, even the visually challenged students need their Braille books to read and revise,” said Sangeeta Rao, co-ordinator of the self-vision centre in Ruia College.
“It gives them a sense of independence,” Rao added.