30 May 2010

Can and abled

Subhash Mishra

January 8, 2010

Namita Gupta, 19, from Varanasi has been suffering from cerebral palsy, a disease in which the mind and the body do not work in sync. She was a top student and her parents had wanted to send her for higher studies but failed to do so because of the hostile atmosphere at regular universities and colleges. Though Gupta comprehends well, she speaks slowly with multiple breaks and can neither write nor walk properly. But Gupta has hope now, thanks to the Dr Shakuntala Mishra Rehabilitation University (DSMRU) in Lucknow, an initiative of Chief Minister Mayawati and BSP General Secretary Satish Chandra Mishra. She is now pursuing a BEd in hearing impairment and will acquire a job soon. With the help of two assistants provided by the university, Gupta can now express herself in writing and go wherever she pleases. Her mother has also been lodged with her on the campus. For thousands like Gupta, the DSMRU is fulfiling dreams every day.

The Central Government had been promising such a university for the last 15 years. As awareness about the needs of the physically challenged grew and social attitudes to them changed, it was realised that there simply aren't enough opportunities for them, especially in higher education.

The chief minister was so committed to the cause that she did not lose time in sanctioning over Rs 398 crore for the university. Last September she inaugurated the university in the name of Satish's mother, the late Shakuntala Mishra, who worked with the physically challenged for 20 years. Satish and Shakuntala have fought long battles in the courts trying to ensure reservation for the physically challenged in educational institutions and have been instrumental in the construction of ramps on footpaths and in providing them with government jobs. Satish is now personally monitoring the development of this university spread over 130 acres.

Till now, the physically challenged were left stranded when it came to deciding where to study and where to get financial support from. "As a result, they dropped the idea of pursuing higher studies all together," says Vice-Chancellor R.P. Singh, DSMRU. Despite the fact that Uttar Pradesh alone has more than 35 lakh physically challenged persons, only a small percentage of them have access to higher education due to social and economic reasons. "Many a time the government is not even able to fulfil the 3 per cent mandatory reservation in its services," says the Principal Secretary (Disabled Welfare), Shailesh Krishna, who is also the principal secretary to the chief minister. He said this is where the DSMRU is going to provide the best trained manpower.

The DSMRU is providing special education in BEd in hearing impairment, mental retardation, visual impairment and a diploma in education in these specialised courses. The annual admission fee starts at about Rs 15,000 and varies from course to course. Speaking to INDIA TODAY, Satish explained that all the rooms and washrooms have been designed with ramps and holding bars. He said that even the study material and technology have been modified to suit the students' needs, like books in Braille for the visually challenged students. Fifty per cent of seats in each course have been reserved for normal students with an aim to integrate regular and the differently abled students. It was on Satish's petition to the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court that the state had to ensure all facilities to the visually challenged.

"In the 2001 Census, the population of the physically challenged in India was about 22 million, of whom 48 per cent were partially or completely blind and 25 per cent physically challenged," says Satish. Mayawati has set up a special committee under Satish's chairmanship to submit a report for taking welfare measures for the differently abled. "This is my small contribution to the physically challenged," said the chief minister while inaugurating the university. Apart from providing an education, the DSMRU is also assuring placements for the students pursuing courses like hearing impairment and mental retardation, says the registrar of the rehabilitation university, S.K. Srivastava. "We are already receiving requests from schools and colleges for qualified teachers," he says.

"We have no words to express our gratitude to the chief minister and Mishra who has been instrumental in setting up the rehabilitation university," says S.K. Singh, general secretary of the National Association of the Visually Handicapped. He says that not even 3,000 physically challenged persons of the 35 lakh in the state make it to colleges and universities. "The condition in the rural areas, especially that of women, is pathetic," says Singh, adding that hundreds of posts reserved for the differently abled are lying vacant and the Government should look into it.

Singh said that there are many institutions which provide such an education, but this university is one of its kind as this is where the physically challenged can receive higher education and get proper jobs as well. "We had been liabilities on our families and on society. But the DSMRU has changed our lives. It has elevated us to the status of regular human beings who can earn and feed their families also," says visually impaired student Dinesh Kumar, from Deoria district. The university is showered with calls from all over the country from students with a range of impairments and specific learning difficulties to know about the details of admission, says Srivastava. It's a start, but there's a long way to go.

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