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Obstacle course: A look at what it’s like to be differently abled on campus

Students with disabilities discuss their pet peeves, and their favourite parts of the day.

education Updated: Jan 15, 2018 17:41 IST
Gayatri Belpathak
(HT Illistration: Shrikrishna Patkar)

For 25-year-old Surekha Pawar, a visually-challenged MA student of Politics at the University of Mumbai (MU), the three-step journey via bus-train-bus from her hostel in Mulund to the Kalina campus of MU is a daily struggle. “As a newcomer to the city from the remote village of Valtur in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, the first six months of travelling alone were the most difficult,” says the former student of Kirti College. She has been living in Mumbai since the past four years and the struggle is easier now, she says.

She is not alone. More differently-abled students are opting for higher education despite the logistical and physical challenges, yet there is a long way to go. On December 15, the Supreme Court stated that disabled students have a right to higher education, and not providing it amounts to “discrimination” on the part of the institutes. It directed the government institutions of higher education and those that received aid from the government to abide by the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The Act provides for reservation of not less than five per cent seats for persons with benchmark disabilities (a person with no less than forty per cent of any of the disabilities listed in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, namely blindness, low vision, leprosy cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation, mental illness, cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack victims, hard of hearing, speech and language disability, specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, chronic neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, blood disorders such as haemophilia, thalassemia, and sickle cell anaemia, and multiple disabilities).

The All India Survey on Higher Education (2016-17) conducted and published by the Ministry of Human Resource Development – Department of Higher Education of the Government of India mentions that the “Enrolment of Persons with Disability (PWD) has mix trend of growth over the years in all states but no definite trend is visible.”

UNITED WE STAND

When Mumbai resident and visually challenged student, Siddhesh Tendulkar (right) took admission at Wilson College at Class 11 in 2011, his hurdle was not the usual kind. It was the English medium of instruction that he found challenging. Most students would have simply dropped out. But the following year, Tendulkar enrolled in Ruia College with Marathi as his language of instruction.

“The blind centre in our college was very helpful,” says the 24-year-old student. He participated in extra-curricular activities throughout college. “Our college celebrates Louis Braille day with a special event. I participated in singing and quiz contests and also anchored in the event,” he says. He and a group of seven visually challenged friends also formed a study group to share notes and study. “Together we can progress faster,” he says.

He earned his BA degree in 2016 and is currently enrolled in a certificate course in Fragrance and Aroma with CPL institute.

INDEPENDENCE MATTERS

Born with a tumour on her backbone and physically-challenged since she was nine months old, due to surgical complications (during the removal of the tumour), Gitanjali Suryawanshi, 23, didn’t let her body or her childhood in a small town in rural Maharashtra get in the way of her educational dreams.

She moved to Pune to complete undergraduate studies at S P College and completed her Masters in Social Work at Karve Institute of Social Sciences. As an undergraduate, she participated the college hostel’s dance, drama and singing contests. She was also a part of the management team of the events.

“Living independently in a city like Pune was the biggest challenge for me,” says Suryawanshi. She topped the entrance test of Karve Institute in the first year. She now aspires to travel the world.

ACTIVIST MODE

As a child, orthopedically-challenged Diksha Dinde (above), 24, was denied admission in a regular school and ended up completing her education until Class 7 at a local municipal school and thereafter in a regular school till class 10. She appeared for her SSC exams and did well enough to secure a place Class 11 at the same school that had rejected her as a child.

She went on to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Commerce majoring in Business Administration from Hujurpaga college in Pune. Dinde is now a student of MA in History at the Indira Gandhi Open University. She’s also a global youth ambassador of ‘A World At School’, a United Nations-supported digital mobilisation and communication initiative harnessing the efforts and energies of the many NGOs, teachers’ organisations, faith groups, individuals and youth campaigners to make education a reality for all the world’s children. The Pune resident volunteers to work with underprivileged children, is also a motivational speaker and champions disability rights.

VISION FOR ALL

Visually-challenged student Abhay Patil, 27, is pursuing an M A in History at the University of Mumbai. He had to take a break of four years before his Class 10 exams, due to health problems that led him to losing his vision completely.

His biggest challenge in college was not coping with the curriculum, but finding a writer for his exams. Today, he volunteers as a coordinator with a non-profit called Team Vision, which works for the visually-challenged by providing readers and writers for their studies, organising cultural events and treks for them. “I acted in a play while volunteering [with Team Vision] and played the role of Shivaji Maharaj,” says Patil.

He is working on a creating and running an online audio library to provide academic resources for students like himself and hopes to become a professor of History. “Success is a journey, not a destination,” he says.

FINDING YOURSELF

A second-year MA student in Convergent Journalism at Jamia Milia Islamia University, Tavanpal Singh suffers from cerebral palsy, a condition that limits his mobility. The 23-year-old hails from Amritsar, Punjab and came to Delhi for his post-graduate studies.

During his journalism course, he created a photo-essay of his experience as a differently-abled student. “It helped me express my feelings of claustrophobia,” says Singh.

He says his family – many of them are doctors – has been very supportive of his career choices and aspirations and has received similar support from the faculty members in college and university.

“If you are not getting enough support as a differently-abled student, voice your concerns,” he says. “You are not disabled, you are differently-abled. Every person has a quality that makes him or her unique. You just have to find yours.”