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The visionary who can not see

Braille and audio books don't enter the market, says Vinod Sena.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2006 22:09 IST

For many students of Vinod Sena, classes on Greek tragedy at the DU Arts Faculty were often followed by afternoons spent recording audio books for the visually impaired. The soft-spoken teacher had a way of weaning away young students from exciting past-times to a more socially productive venture.

The result is that, with help from students and faculty members, the audio book resource centre at Delhi Braille Library in Delhi University has the full taught courses of Hindi, Sanskrit, Political Science and some books of English available on cassettes and CDs.

Sena lost his eyesight after small pox vaccination at three months' age. Academically brilliant, he went on to teach at institutions like Ramjas, Hansraj, St Stephen's College and later at DU. "The year I won the Commonwealth Scholarship, I was the only student to do so among 40,000 applicants. But when I went for my final clearance, a government official told me I was not fit," laughs Sena.

When he returned, he was offered a job in the English department of the university. "I have worked through my education in Lahore, Delhi and England and profession with this (disability) all my life. But I had a very supportive family. My father and sister read out to me. I thought why should someone who does not have this support suffer. At age 60, I thought it was time to give back to society," Sena explains his decision to work for disabled.

In 1998, Sena prevailed upon then V-C V R Mehta to form the DU committee for persons with disability, a body he had chaired for eight years since its inception. "We saw that while DU was liberal in giving such students admission, there was very little infrastructural support for them," he says. When the government enforced reservation of seats for the disabled, Sena was instrumental in streamlining the admission process through the dean students' welfare's office.

"Giving reservation was not enough. It's not easy for visually impaired students to travel from college to college. We thought, why not have centralised admissions," he says.

At age 71, the former professor of English does not show any signs of slowing down even if retirement from the teaching job at DU has meant leaving "literary scholarship behind". "I am now devoting myself full-time to working for the visually-impaired," he says. Then there is the management of his website, Shruti, which he calls a one-stop destination for resources for the visually-impaired and print handicapped.

"Braille books don't enter the market, nor do most audio books. The website had a national catalogue of audio books in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. Information on the agency that has recorded the book, even the narrator's name is provided. While listening to a book, the narrator often makes a qualitative difference," he explains.

The next big project on Sena's agenda is to start a resource centre for the visually impaired in Delhi University. High time we had one.