16-year-old Sowmya (name changed) was born blind in the Bidar district of Karnataka. Her parents didn’t want their daughter’s education compromised due to disability, so at an early age they enrolled her in a special school for the blind.
Like other blind children, Sowmya managed to study with the institutional support in form of braille, audiobooks, assistance from writers and of course overall guidance from her teachers. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced all schools to shut down in 2020. Students were left with no choice but to return home.
Sowmya too came home and started preparing for her Class X exams with the help of audiobooks. Once her examination schedule was announced, she faced a new challenge of finding a scribe. Unable to arrange for a writer, she was about to give up when she heard an audio promotion about the Eyeway Helpdesk on Enable India’s Namma Vaani. An audio messaging platform meant for persons with disabilities living in rural parts, Namma Vaani shares information regarding opportunities, employment, education, schemes, solutions, etc.
Sowmya felt a renewed sense of hope as she dialed the toll-free helpline. The Eyeway counselor apprised her of volunteers who arrange for scribes for visually impaired students. The counselor also gave her step-by-step guidance on how to use the ‘Scribe Finder’ app to identify someone near her location. As a result of this timely intervention, Sowmya was able to appear for her Class X finals. Now, she looks forward to enrolling in Class XI and prepare for higher education.
There are many others like Sowmya, who have faced challenges due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. Tucked away in their remote locations, visually impaired students struggle with finding scribes, study material, access to Internet and devices that can ensure participation in the digital learning mediums. Some have even had to forego a whole academic year.
Is it time that academic institutions, government authorities, non-government organisations as well as private establishments came together to address the perils of the ‘new normal’?