Disabled system needs fixing

SPECIAL NEEDS: UNIVERSITIES DO NOT MAKE THE DIFFERENTLY ABLED FEEL AT HOME

Disabled system needs fixing

My department has stairs, there is no facility of ramps, railings or lifts. The department's canteen and library are also inaccessible as they are not located on the ground floor,” says Siddharth, a physically challenged  postgraduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

In Jamia Millia Islamia, wheelchair-bound Rizwan says last year he couldn't attend classes for one of his subjects: the classroom was located on the first floor. A visually handicapped (VH) student from Delhi University complains of bumping into a pole while walking on the tactile path in the campus which is supposed to provide directions to the blind. And a hearing impaired DU student can't get much out of his classes as there are no sign language interpreters during lectures.

In 2005, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People conducted a survey in which it selected 119 Universities, out of which 52 universities provided data. The survey revealed that only about 0.1 per cent of the students there had disabilities.

“Three per cent seats are reserved for the students with disabilities; this shows that these students are not able to reach the higher levels of education. The gender factor is a drawback for female students with disabilities; 76.3 per cent of the disabled students were males, while 23.7 per cent were females,” said the survey.

According to a DU official, a majority of people with disabilities (PWD) students are from Hindi medium, and come from financially weaker backgrounds.

“I have seen PWD students dropping out as they are unable to cope up with the challenges, especially the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and paucity of reading material in colleges. A handful are able to sustain. And this is the situation in big cities, in central universities. Accessible toilets, even paths, scanned reading material, books in Braille, computers with the required software, recorders – all these facilities are in paucity,” says Siddharth.

PWD students say while the administration is slowly bringing about changes as far as disabled-friendly infrastructure and access to reading material are concerned, an overall approach towards proper planning and implementation is lacking.
“Just ramps or installing lifts does not make the campus disabled-friendly,” says Nikhil Jain, a professor and member of forum Sambhavana, which addresses issues of disabilities.

He says designing of buidings, classrooms and paths needs to be properly thought out. Experts should be consulted, and students and faculty members who face ground realities should be involved in the process.

“Like in DU's Faculty of Arts, there were narrow open dry drains, which used to be a hindrance for VH category students as their sticks used to get stuck in them,” says Jain.
The administration blames lack of funds for difficulties in creating new infrastructure. “The University Grants Commission (UGC) has a committee to look into issues of PWD students and faculty in the varsities. However, there is nothing fruitful which is done by it,” says Bipin Tiwari, officer on special duty with DU's Equal opportunity Cell (EOC).
But he add, “The University has constructed a disabled- friendly new Social Sciences building with lifts and ramps, etc. Several transportation initiatives have been taken, like pick-and-drop services; health check-ups were organised, among other initiatives.”

A senior JNU official says the varsity's  Equal Opportunity Office (EOO)  has sanctioned Rs. 3.77 lakh  to construct ramps with rails in hostels and the academic complex, including the library. The JNU website says the university has developed some ramps on its own.  The review committee visited them and suggested improvements as per the guidelines of the ministry of urban development. “All efforts are being made to make the campus disabled-friendly,” says the official.

Accommodation problems

Lack of disabled-friendly hostels is another regular complaint from PWD students.
“In DU, for postgraduate women PWD students, there are no hostels. They live in private accommodation which is not disabled-friendly. They are in a vulnerable spot,” adds Jain.

While disabled students at JNU and DU have complaints, those at Jamia Millia Islamia say a lot of work is being done to make the infrastructure suitable for them. “There are few locations which are inaccessible. Since the last two years or more, JMI is making the varsity disabled-friendly. The issue which I face is hesitation in talking to others as I have witnessed others judging me due to my handicap,” says Rizwan.
Last year, blind students at JNU, who had  been complaining since long about stray dogs in the campus, went on a hunger strike. “The strike went on for over a week. There are hundreds of stray dogs on the campus and the problem comes up when a blind student unintentionally steps on them, or his stick touches them. Some of them respond by biting, “ says Siddharth.

“There were many incidents of students being bitten by the dogs. The administration finally made amends, created dog feeding points, got them vaccinated and sterilised. It also started keeping rabies vaccinations at the medical centre,” he adds.

The dogs remain on the campus, but  incidents of dog bites have dropped.
DU students have been protesting repeatedly for better infrastructure and study material. Bipin Tiwari admits their demands are genuine, but says that passing proposals involving several government departments takes time.

“We are not denying any of their demands, they are genuine. The work has already started on their demands. But they should also appreciate and acknowledge what we are doing for them,” he says, reminding completing the work takes time.

“One needs to assess the developments since the last five years. The assessment has to be done in a practical way. There are restraints and constraints as the demands involve not just the varsity, but other higher authorities,” says Tiwari.
But Nikhil Jain says not much work is taking place despite funds coming to colleges.
Lack of funds
“Paucity of funds is always there. However, I feel the released funds are not being appropriately utilised or not utilised at all. Like I made a round with my principal, telling him how the college can be made disabled-friendly,” says Jain.

“Our college has the funds, but work is yet to take place,” adds Jain.
Principals of  Delhi University colleges also say there is little scope for renovation because several college buildings are old.

“There are colleges which are quite old. However, there still is a possibility of connecting crucial areas, like the staff room, classrooms, laboratories, library. My college is very old, but I was able to figure out ways which can make it disabled-friendly by connecting important areas,” says Jain.

Jain mentions a few DU colleges where things have been set right for the disabled.
 “In Jesus and Mary college, because there is a senior PWD faculty member, disabled-friendly infrastructure was constructed. Similarly, Mata Sundri college also has a PWD faculty member who made sure that the college is accessible. In North Campus, prominent colleges are partly disabled- friendly.” The worst, he says, are colleges in remote areas, run from old buildings.

(Some names have been changed)

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