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Is visual impairment a handicap in getting education from regular schools?

Children are our most valuable natural resource
- Herbert Hoover

The above famous lines are by the 31st president of US, who was also a mining engineer and an author. And although I applaud him for his words of wisdom, I would also like to add to his original thoughts my own lines which are, ‘…. we must realize the importance of making each and every child strong and capable enough to become an active and contributing member of the society.’

Keeping the above quote as the starting point of our article let me move ahead to discuss the topic of this article, that is, is visual impairment a handicap in getting education from regular schools/colleges?

The article generates some real viewpoints, thoughts and expressions of a group of few visually impaired students having the condition since birth (ranging between the age group of 5 – 17 years and studying in different regular Schools of New Delhi) & their parents based on a set of questions which was prepared beforehand for greater effectiveness and time management. 

The first child, I interacted with in that respect was, the articulate and quite sure of himself fifteen year old boy, Kartik, who loves to watch television, work on the computer and surf the net. He candidly expressed that doing so, is not at all cumbersome or difficult for him. In fact, he firmly believes that lack of vision does not in any way affect him from doing something he really likes to. He has learnt and taught himself to be independent and do the regular things a child his age likes to. Of course, he maintains, that the computer has been extremely useful to actualize his efforts to be independent in many ways. The screen reader in a computer acts like a talking encyclopedia, making many tasks including surfing the net extremely easy.  

When I asked him about the difficulties he might have faced during the initial days when he joined DPS R.K Puram – one of the most prestigious and well known School of N. Delhi, he mentioned that even though the beginning was difficult (as he took time to adjust to the new surroundings, teachers took time to understand him and device the correct and effective methods of teaching him & his classmates took time to adjust to him being slightly different than them), slowly things became much smoother and organized when the sincere efforts of his parents, teachers and classmates showed visible results in the form of his academic results and proud development in other areas of personal growth. Another problematic area was when initially he did all his notes in Braille and his mother had to transcribe everything that he wrote to enable his teachers correct his work.
Later, working directly in the computers solved that problem for him.

Kartik also proudly revealed to me that besides studies, he won many kudos and awards for excelling in the field of music, debate, public speaking et al.He also gave out his mantra to be successful in life – Firmly believe in yourself, Face challenges boldly and explore your talent and manifest it to the world by pursuing it diligently.

Kartik’s father, Mr. Sawhney also shared some very important practical points and views on the subject to help many parents like him understand things in the right perspective and help their children accordingly. As per him….visually impaired kids must study in the mainstream Schools in order to develop their cope mechanisms from the very beginning and adjust better in society by boldly facing the realities of life. In that respect, he feels satisfied and quite proud of the all round development his son is making. He has been topping his class for the past four consecutive years and has even won a Gold medal at the national level abilympics.
The next in my line of interaction were the bubbly thirteen year old twin sisters – Pragya and Prachi studying in Springdales, Dhaula Kuan. (And who have managed to keep in touch with me on a regular basis….and keep e - mailing me motivating quotes or funny one liners).  They also came out with some very interesting thoughts. 

In their view, ‘not being able to see things,’ has never been an impediment in leading a fulfilling and happy life. Their positive mind set and the latest technology has ensured that they never feel ‘left out’ and in fact proudly walk arm in arm with the other normal visioned children of their age. Though they confided that initially they did face stiff situations and had several inhibitions to deal with. They feared going to School, they would want their mother to be with them at all times and they were extremely shy and scared of their teachers. But gradually things settled down and both the sisters became more confident of their surroundings. They strongly believe that - One must learn computers, be bold and keep smiling under all circumstances to be successful in life. Their mother Mrs. Mahajan was equally vocal in voicing her thoughts on the subject and in complete agreement with the views of Mr. Sawhney that blind kids should be made to study in the mainstream Schools in order to be winners in life. She went a step further in asserting that that parent of normal sighted kids must be sensitized about such students so as to enable them to feel wanted and cope better in the regular Schools. On asking her about proudest moment on the girls’ progress, she recalls the time when the twin’s math’s teacher called her to the school to let her know that they had performed the best in the whole class.

My next interviewee, seventeen year old Diwakar Sharma of DPS R.K Puram was quite unwell for a while but still took out time to answer my questions. A brilliant student and head boy of his School, he has more to him than that. With a melodious voice and winner of several national music competitions including being one of the toppers of the popular ‘Zee …Sa re ga ma pa’, Diwakar has achieved more than many of his counterparts. He gives complete credit for his success to his belief in himself, faith in God, hard work and focus. Of course, he considers his loving and ever encouraging parents, relatives and close friends his pillar of strength. Again like the others he had some initial ‘hiccups’ and used Braille in the beginning to complete his School work but later again as in other cases learning and using Computers solved most of his problems. He however asserted that other than that he never faced much difficulty in other areas of his School work. In fact all his teachers were very good and supportive of him. Mr. Sharma, Diwakar’s father put his concern on record by expressing his belief that like in Metros regular Schools in other smaller cities should also have such facilities and awareness programmes, to enable visually challenged children feel and be an active part of the larger society.

The last and the youngest of the children whom I got in touch with was five year old Aarush Bhat who recently started his formal Schooling in DPS Vasundhara. Since he is very young his mother answered for him. Mrs. Bhat shared that she faced a lot of difficulties in getting her son admitted to a good School. Though the efforts put in by her and her husband finally bore fruit and Aarush got into a well known and reputed School finally. The major problem they faced related to lack of awareness and inclusion in most of the Schools they had applied in. She also informed that at home they used ‘tactile things’ as a method to teach different things to their son. And it makes her feel very proud with each little progress he makes. Finally, like other parents she is also of the opinion that such children must be compulsorily admitted to regular schools and special trained teachers must be hired by the schools to assist these kids to become happy, confident and contributing members of our society.

My Understanding:

From my interaction with these students and their parents I gathered some very helpful and vital points which I am briefly summarizing as below-:

  • A positive frame of mind,
  • Firm belief in oneself,
  • Focused hard work,
  • Loving support and encouragement by one’s immediate family, friends, and the community at large
  • And last but not the least of them all – appropriately learning and using what the technology has to offer us, are important ingredients for making visually impaired children grow up into happy and self reliant individuals.

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