Delhi University’s Visually Impaired Students Reveal What College Life Is Truly Like

Did you think this was going to be a story? It’s not.

Were you expecting an interview? I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Wait, this is definitely not a research oriented article backed with sources, or a polemic opinion piece which will hold your attention for a considerable span of reading time.

As I sit down to transcribe whatever I’ve collected , I have no idea what to call this and so the first sentence will tell you I’m trying to give this an identity by differentiating it from the others. This is an attempt to provide a window to look at the lives of visually impaired students in the University of Delhi through their own experiences.

This is precisely the problem: how do you tell someone to limit their story in words, how can you make conversations not sound like an interview when you know what you’re doing it for and most importantly when this world mistakes authenticity for hard facts, how do you work without hyperlinks? I repeat myself, this is an attempt.

College is a rough place for anyone in general but for students who do not fit into the conventional mould(s), there are different layers of violence that work on different levels and affect them. Educational spaces should ideally be all inclusive and accessible to realise the dream of an equal education.

When I was young, our school used to take us to the school for the blind for volunteer work. I, then, used to believe in the idea that keeping separate schools would help them because ‘normal’ (ableist) schools would never be able to provide for children with special needs.

Students at Miranda House, Delhi University. (Photo: National Service Scheme, Miranda House 2018-19/Facebook)

It was a new experience (for someone who has been a product of the institution that promotes ableism as normal) to see visually impaired students in the same classroom as me. One of my first acquaintances in Miranda House was Preevi Singh.

Preevi hails from Benaras, loves Urdu literature and is the only visually impaired student in the batch of English Literature 2020 in Miranda House. Unlike most colleges, Miranda House, comparatively, is well equipped with providing facilities for the visually impaired students with scanners in most classrooms and the Amba Dalmia Digital Resource Center. The latter provides an enabling environment and state-of-art assistive technologies to the visually impaired members of the Miranda House community.

The hard facts being set forth before, let’s not paint a rosy picture already. When I ask her about her everyday struggles, she turns at me with her usual smile, pauses for a few seconds, turns her head away and begins as if taking a long breath for what’s to come next. “It’s strange that people ask other people about their everyday struggles when they can simply ask them how their day was.”

I think about rephrasing my question but she cuts me short and goes, “There can be many reforms introduced which can ease the struggle we face on a daily basis. Miranda House lacks tactical plates and finding classrooms is very difficult without knowing where to go. Furthermore, the bulging brick walls, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bumped into them and got hurt.”

Preevi records most of her lectures in classes and has to make extra efforts to attain reading materials. You don’t have to eulogize her struggles but, being aware and pushing for reforms is how we make sure changes are brought. The first step to this is listening and understanding.

In a report, Saksham Trust and IIT, Delhi discuss three important factors related to commotion:

1)Public transport is the only viable mobility option for the most of the visually challenged in our country.
2) 87% of the visually challenged individuals live in developing countries where no other viable option exists.
3) Reliable access to public transport is a precursor for seeking education.

This makes commotion one of the biggest problems because it guarantees accessibility. Most of the time visually impaired students are not provided with hostels and without properly equipped roads, the journey from their accommodation to their college becomes a difficult route.

A digital vision signage outside a classroom at Miranda House, University of Delhi.

Priyanka Verma is a student from Indraprastha College who does not live in a hostel. When asked about her experiences she was mostly positive about the college environment towards students like her. Indraprastha College has tactile plates and an active NSS volunteer engagement.

According to Priyanka, this has been made possible with the efforts of the faculty. However, she lives away from the college and she says, “Although it’s easy for me to come in the morning, sometimes when my classes finish late, it takes me almost 3 hours to come back home.”

Almost every visually impaired student had a complaint regarding the transportation and road facilities but Umesh helped me put this into perspective.

Umesh is a second-year History student from Hansraj College. Umesh talks about how the struggle is largely dependent on whether the student gets hostel accommodation or not. According to Umesh, getting the hostel always reduces problems.

He further talks about the difficulty in reaching places because of parked cars that block the footpath. It is an important thing to note that the struggles of a visually impaired student in transportation is intrinsically connected to road discipline.

Umesh also talks about how the academic resources are widely available for most, but a visually impaired student has limited access. But more than anything, he emphasised on company and an amiable environment in college.

Again, according to him, it is highly relative but he did mention the two types of people: sympathisers and those who understand they’re equally capable and treat them likewise. When asked about a reform he would like to introduce, he mentions the sports department.

He says, “There are a lot of people who did really well in sports at school level but had to leave it in college.” There are no proper trainers to train visually impaired students and although the equipment may remain same, a different set of instructions is required.

Delhi University has progressed in providing for students with disability. Earlier, the university had installed technology which can scan books and transcribe text to speech in all its libraries, a move which the varsity claims was a first-of-its-kind initiative for visually impaired students by an Indian university. The technology installed last year is known as ‘Inclusive Print Access Project’ and is a combination of softwares which have been imported from abroad to suit the needs of students.

The DU Equal Opportunity Cell was established in 2006 to address the needs and issues related to students with disability and members belonging to the SC,ST, OBC communities and other minorities. DU also allows for a 5% relaxation in eligibility criterion with respect to students with disability.

A Braille library and an Audio Book Resource Centre are among the facilities introduced by the university. But, it hasn’t done enough research to understand that the problem extends beyond just providing for academic resources and tactile plates; the one thing that’s needed more than anything is social inclusion.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Students’ Right 2 Accommodation/Facebook.
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