Unlimited possibilities

Unlimited possibilities

Being future-ready

Unlimited possibilities

The Deepa Academy in Bengaluru provides quality education for visually challenged children and makes them independent, learns Surekha Hegde

The Deepa Academy in Bengaluru has been providing better opportunities for visually challenged children from different parts of Karnataka, particularly  those from rural areas. It was started in 2006 by R S Shantharam, a visually challenged person, with an aim to work for the betterment and upliftment of visually challenged individuals. “I am one of those fortunate people who got access to education and other good things in life. I even had the experience of working in schools that catered to children with special needs. But I know the problems faced by the visually challenged and the agony they undergo. Hence, my dream was to make sure that visually challenged children should not be deprived of the facilities a normal kid would get. This made me start the Deepa Academy,” says Shantharam. He founded the academy with L Ravi and C G Sandhyarani. It also has a branch in Chamarajanagar, where children (both boys and girls) in the age group of five and 12 (till Class 8) study.

The academy offers shelter to children from different parts of rural Karnataka. With the help of district coordination centre, the academy identifies visually challenged children and approaches their family to convince about the need to educate such children. The academy has been successful in convincing the parents and as a result, the number of children joining the school is increasing every year. For girls, the academy has started a high school in Bengaluru with residential facility. It also extends financial and moral support to boys.

So far, over 350 children have studied here, and many have got jobs in good firms. Some students have successfully taken up Karnataka Public Service Commission (KPSC) exam. Five qualified people, three of whom are visually challenged, work as teachers here. For example, Soumya, who teaches Maths, has a postgraduate degree in Maths and another teacher, Padma, is a Political Science postgraduate.

The academy also provides computer education to the students. For this, the academy has incorporated the Job Access With Speech program (or in short, JAWS). JAWS is a computer screen reader program that allows computer users with vision loss to read the screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a refreshable braille display. Basic computer education has been provided to make them job-ready. Jagadeesh, who is visually challenged, teaches computer to children during weekends.

All-round development

The academy also provides training for the visually challenged children to ensure safe and effective travel through their environment and other day-to-day activities through orientation and mobility classes. The academy has also given equal importance to cocurricular activities like games, craft and fine arts. “Danseuse Suparna Venkatesh has been conducting dance classes for the children for the last eight years. So far, six children have performed arangetram and some of them have even performed at international events,” says Ravi. The objectives of the academy include:

* Empowerment of visually challenged girls and other differently-abled persons through quality education.

* The overall development of the visually  challenged girls and other differently abled children.

* Fostering an effective teaching/ learning environment.

* To bring the visually challenged children and other differently-abled children into the mainstream society.

The academy’s latest venture is a Braille Library to provide equal access to information and reading materials for the visually challenged. The endeavour is supported by the Amway Opportunity Foundation. A collection of about 800 braille books are in the library. The books are sourced from the All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB), National Federation of the Blind in New Delhi and other organisations. Along with academic books, magazines, fiction, biographies are also available in the library. “In this technology-driven world people are forgetting the Braille system. This library has been set up to encourage the habit of reading in the visually challenged,” says Shantharam.

Anusha, who is studying in 8th standard, is happy about the facilities available at the school. She says, “I read both story and text books here. I want to be a teacher.” Nandini, a Class 9 student, says, “I get to read biographies in the library. Reading such books inspires me to achieve something in life.” With such initiatives gaining traction, integration doesn’t seem to be that far in the future. For details, log on to www.deepaacademy.org.