Different Inabilities

The conference on Mathematics Education on the 19th of August was instructive in more ways than initially imagined. One of the invitees was the distinguished mathematician, V S Sunder from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Matscience) in Chennai. In recent years, Sunder has increasingly needed support in walking, and now requires wheelchair assistance essentially on a full time basis. The conference to which he was invited, and which he kindly agreed to come to, was scheduled to be held in the Raman Auditorium in our Science Complex.

We were very poorly prepared. In the event, we made a ramp that made it possible for Prof. Sunder to make it to the front of the auditorium, but not onto the stage… The building was made at a time when our sensibilities were less developed and we simply had not thought of such things.

Coincidentally, Sunder wrote a piece that appeared in his column on the 20th of August in the Chennai Times of India entitled DIFFERENT STROKES for DIFFERENT FOLKS which ran something like this:

How many times have you:

  • Seen an elevator with no braille signs marked next to the door buttons?
  • Even noticed that the elevator you use in your office or apartment complex every day has or does not have Braille markings?
  • Noticed whether the edges of steps are made of a different texture than the rest of the step (so that a blind person will know the step is coming to an end there)?
  • Wondered how hearing impaired students cope with our system of education?
  • Heard people tell somebody with mobility problems that a distance of hundred metres “is very close by” or that “there are only a few steps” when there is no ramp for easy wheelchair access?
  • Seen a lecturer in a classroom draw something on the board to explain something, and wondered how a blind student would follow?
  • Been to a party on a roof-top which necessitates that anyone coming there should climb some twenty steps even after having taken an elevator to the ‘top floor’, and wondered if the plight of the mobility-impaired are even considered before either the party or the elevator was planned?
  • Seen doors that are not wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

It was not just that the conference venue was not fully prepared for Prof. Sunder, there was no way he could come into the Administration Block or drop in at the VC’s office if he wanted to. Which means that there are several others in the UoH family who are similarly denied access… And that also includes the elderly- pensioners, or parents of staff, students and faculty.

Many of our buildings are now equipped with ramps, but we are a very far way from being what is euphemistically called “friendly” to the disabled. And the lack of sensitivity to a range of disabilities is endemic. Not that the attitude of most of us is crude in any way, it has more to do with what we think about- or more to the point, what we do not think about…

Our neighbour in the Council for Social Development, Kalpana Kannabiran is someone who has long been concerned about such issues, and from a legal point of view. In an article entitled Looking at disability through the constitutional lens, she writes: The most important right guaranteed to all persons by the constitution is the right to life and personal liberty.  The right to life may be enjoyed fully only when we also enjoy personal liberty.  There can be no disagreement that a life in custody or confinement, a life without freedom is not a fulfilling life by any standards.  What does the right to personal liberty mean for a physically challenged person?  Very simply it means that all physical spaces – private and public — must be barrier free and must facilitate equally the mobility of a challenged person and a non disabled person.

The constitution of India in Article 15(2) says: No citizen shall be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to –

  • Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment or 
  • The use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or in part out of state funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

This provision provides protection on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth.  But today we find persons with disabilities are routinely denied access on all of these grounds by the state and private actors alike, through the absence of barrier free access.  Looked at in the context of Article 15(2), therefore, it constitutes a very serious form of discrimination. What then are the meanings of personal liberty for persons with disabilities in perpetual unlawful custody resulting from the denial of routine everyday access to every part of the public domain and critical fields in the “private” domain as well? 

Clearly we need to be sensitive to these issues, and without merely paying lip service to the cause. Our campus needs a “disability audit”, and while we are doing a fair amount already, there is much more that needs to be done. And we require to be informed as to what some of  these needs are, formally and, especially, informally.

As the saying goes, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.


14 thoughts on “Different Inabilities

  1. Raising our sensitivities to people with disabilities is so important.
    I once greatly embarrassed myself in class at Stanford when a student asked me a question about some mathematical operation I did on the blackboard, and I replied pointing to the expression on the blackboard and said here.– see — it is obvious! The class booed me, and it was then I realized that the student who asked the question was blind. I was mortified!

  2. Your last sentence says it all: there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

    Yes, we have an attitude problem and we do not care unless it happens to ourselves. Once after a minor heart problem, I had to climb the stairs to my office and that was the time the realisation dawned on me. Yes, I saw an elevator in china with Braille writing. I was impressed. The annoucement was in chinese though.

    To add a ramp or to provide braille marking on the elevator buttons does not cost extra. We do not bother as it does not hurt us (mostly). Are we really thinking inclusiveness as a tool for progress or as a populist measure to be done and forgotten?

    The accessibility options cannot be done as an “afterthought” as a patchwork. The options must be integrated into the “concept” of the building at the “thought” level.

    Unless we think “them” as “us” the problem will not be solved. No matter how many laws or orders are issued will help. Our progress depends on how we think and act.

    Also think of the toilets. What a mess we have made for ourselves!

  3. It is pleasing to see this utmost sensitivity to the needs of the “differentially abled” people in our campus. Apart from the need to create enabling infrastructure, the UoH also is in need of changing the thinking of the administrators at all levels.

    For example, I have been crying for the attention of university administrators to change the way they are housing the “differentially abled”. Sir do you know that in our UoH hostels, the visually impaired students are kept in separate rooms, away from the rest? If they are housed along with others, life will be normal for them, as the students would develop friendship bond and provide the necessary handholding to the disabled.

    We spend lakhs on the so-called security systems like surveillance cameras etc, which are creating unwelcome environment in the University administration by creating new areas of exclusions, but not on the academically empowering infrastructure.

    Let the Registrar kindly spend an hour a day and go around the campus and acquaint himself with the filth, unclean, and horrible conditions we are living with and working.

  4. Dear Sir,
    as you have mentioned about issue, i will put forward some of the special needs which can make the life our more comfortable and confident in the campus.

    1. Hostel ‘E’ (NRS) has a ramp at the entrance but withing few steps a head, we have cross 7 steps down to enter mess. It was promised to arrange a ramp over there withing six months, when the mess was renovated, could not do it till now.
    2. In the same hostel, all rooms do not access to reach by a wheel chair, hence, the accessible rooms can be reserved
    3. all the old hostels do not have accessible toilets
    4. Old shopping complex do no allow few people to shop easily
    5. New Shopping complex restricts few people 100 meters away from the shops. It is also a troublesome to walk few people to the shop, it would be a puzzle who cannot see
    6. It is a tough job to many students in the campus to go the first floor every time.
    7. Moving in the big corridors of many buildings also needed attention
    8. Your, mentioned, experience is always there with other auditoriums also in the campus
    9. Standing for long time in library and accessing the books from top racks is again needed attention
    10. Battery wheel chairs in every building improves the speed and gives lots of support.
    11. Braille and auditory equipment is an immediate need
    12. Ad building was a long pending issue, but you have mentioned about it.

    We look forward for an more accessible campus under your leadership.
    Special needs not only helps PWDs, but smooths the others life also.

    ex: The frequency of ramps using is very high when compared to steps in hostels by all the students.

  5. Thanks for flagging an important issue for our University. Some years ago, I was involved with the Critical Disability Studies programme at York University, Toronto. That was the time our University had also proposed the starting of a Disability Studies Centre. Anyway, I would like to share below excerpts from a proposed policy for conducting examinations for visually impaired students sent by some disability rights activists. I have the full text if somebody is interested in accessing it:

    Policy for Examination of the Visually Disabled

    The need for a standard and comprehensive Policy throughout India for the examination of the Visually Disabled has been growing since:

    a.. Every year more and more Visually Disabled candidates are appearing for various examinations.
    b.. Number of examining bodies has been increasing over the years
    c. Various orders/judgments/directions have been passed by various Courts/Commissions/Authorities and deal with the problem in piecemeal.
    d. Various examination conducting authorities have different rules and/or implement the rules in different ways.
    e. Technology is improving and needs to be taken into account
    f. The anxiety suffered by the examinees before and during the examination has to be removed
    g. Questions asked at written examinations and the examinations themselves are varied and need to be answered in various ways.
    h. Competition is increasing and the Visually Disabled have to be given a level playing field

    1. Scribe

    a. The Visually Disabled candidate must be allowed the use of a Scribe who will read the question papers and write/type the answers dictated by the Visually disabled candidate.

    b. Since one of the important factors while doing an examination is speed, adequate practice is necessary, Visually Disabled persons should be allowed to use the services of a scribe of his/her own choice. The Visually Disabled candidate may however request the Examining authority to provide a Scribe.

    c. The discretion to arrange for his/her own Scribe or to be provided by a Scribe by the Examining Authority is with the candidate alone.

    d. No other restriction other than those mentioned in Clauses 3 or 4 herein below should be imposed on the selection of a scribe.

    e. It is desirable that the candidate and the scribe are from the same stream.

    3. Scribes chosen by Candidate

    a. In case the candidate avails the services of his/her own scribe/writer, the scribe/writer should be one grade junior in academic qualification than the candidate if from the same stream. However, this condition shall not apply if the scribe/writer is from a different stream.

    b. For competitive examinations the scribe needs to be one level below the eligibility criteria of the competitive exam in consideration.

    c. For internal exams of schools and colleges the condition of the scribe being one grade junior in academic qualification than the candidate should not be enforced strictly as this would cause undue hardship to the candidate and give rise to unviable solutions.

    4. Scribes provided by Examining Authorities

    a. Considering the practical problems, it is necessary that even if the scribe is provided by the examination conducting authorities, at the request of examinee, such authorities must ensure the competence of the scribe/writer. If the scribe is provided by the examining authorities, it should be ensured that the scribe is adequately qualified to understand the questions and to explain them to the candidate.

    b. To ensure the competence of such a scribe provided, the following conditions should be adhered to:

    i. as far as possible and practical, the scribe himself/herself should be a current student;

    ii. In any case, the time interval between when such a scribe ceased to be a student himself/herself and the time he/she is acting as a scribe should not be more than three years, because with the lapse of time, natural abilities of a student like writing speed, taking dictation and writing an examination efficiently in a specified time frame, suffer a considerable decline. However strict adherence to this requirement cannot be stretched beyond a logical point.

    iii. The medium of instruction of the scribe in his/her studies should essentially be, or have been, the same as the examinee.

    iv. Scribe should, as far as possible, belong to the same stream as the examinee.

    v. In cases where the scribe is provided by exam conducting bodies at the request of the examinee, she/he should not have scored below 55% marks in the last exam.

    c. The examining body should identify the scribes/writers and make the panels at district/Division or state level as per requirement of examination.

    d. The Panels of scribe should be as per requirement of the stream/discipline eg. Arts, Commerce, Science & Mathematics, Engineering, Medical etc. and only eligible scribes should be included in the panel.

    6. Additional time

    a. The facility of Additional time must be allotted to all Visually Disabled candidates appearing for examinations in any format with or without the use of a Scribe.

    b. For a written test of duration of 1 hour at least 20 minutes extra time should be allotted.

    c. Similarly For written tests involving more than one or less than one hour extra time should be worked out on the basis of 20 minutes per one hour criteria.

    7. Arrangements at the Examination

    a. Proper sitting arrangement should be made before commencement of the examination so as to avoid confusion and distraction.

    b. Sitting arrangements for the disabled candidates should be made on the ground floor, as far as possible.

    c. Refreshments, if any to scribes/writers should either are served before or after the examination and not during the examination.

    d. The Chief invigilator of the examination center should have discretionary powers to accept last minute change of scribes under exigencies.

    e. Considering the fact that many exams are held in overlapping schedules and also the fact that the scribes may not be free/willing to commit themselves for the entire duration of exam or examination of various languages, more than one person may be permitted to write different papers for the same examination, provided they fulfill all other conditions laid down in clauses 3 or 4 above. For enacting such a change in scribes for different papers, the ground of contingency should not be a mandatory requirement.

    8. Aids and appliances

    a. a. All Visually Disabled candidates may be allowed to carry special mathematical aids such as Taylor’s frame or abacus as they have no other way of calculating sums. Neither abacus nor Taylor’s frame calculate the sums but are mere aids such as a paper for candidates with vision.

    b. in papers such as accounts the visually disabled candidate may be allowed to carry Braille slates and papers for writing the numbers as it is difficult to remember the balance sheets

    c. The visually disabled candidate should also be allowed to use optical/ electronic low vision aids such as magnifying glass;

    9. Alternative Formats

    a. In addition to the facility of a scribe the Visually Disabled candidates have the facility to write answers in Braille or on a computer or a typewriter or may ask for question paper in large font.

    b. The answer paper in Braille should be evaluated by the expert/examiners in Braille script. If possible the question paper may be provided in Braille or in digital text.

    c. The font size of the question paper should not be less than 20 for the benefit of low vision candidates.

    d. Considering the developments in technology, all examination conducting bodies should facilitate the use of computers for taking the exams by the visually Disabled examinees, if the candidate so desires.

    e. Visually Disabled candidates appearing for “Open book Exams may be provided the texts of such books in Braille, in digital format on the computer or in large text at the choice of the candidate.

    10. Alternative Questions

    a. Alternative questions must be provided in cases where the original question contains visual elements and/or require the candidate to interpret or produce such visual elements. However the candidate may elect to answer the original question.

    b. Wherever possible, the visual graphs should be supplemented by descriptive explanation of the graphs for visually Disabled candidates.

    c. For practical exams the Visually Disabled candidate must be allowed the help of a laboratory assistant to conduct the experiment and or be provided alternative oral questions in place of the experiment to be conducted.

    11. Examination on Computers

    a. Visually Disabled candidates can appear in examination on the computer only if students are computer literate and can type at least at the speed of 30 words per minute. The software and hardware is now available to make students write their examinations both in Hindi and English mediums

    c. The use of computers for examination does not mean that a scribe to read the question paper is dispensed with. However the candidate may not require a sighted person and dispense with the same.

    d. The responsibility to bring a computer is not on the student/ candidate. The centre/ Examining authority shall spare one of its own Computers for the exam.

    e. However if it is feasible then the candidate may be allowed to use his own computer. This may be decided by the candidate and the examining authority mutually.

    f. the only responsibility that a student aspiring to give exam on computer has, is to bring the screen reading software.

    g. The candidate should be allowed to install the screen reading software a day in advance on the computer provided with printer installed

    h. recommended Equipment preparation:

    ii. The computer must have the following software installed:

    A. MS Office

    B. Page maker 6

    C. Jaws for windows screen reading software.

    i. Recommended procedure for examination:

    i. The computer centre or the library may be designated as one of the examination centres for conducting the examination.

    ii. Question paper must be sent to this Centre on a CD.

    iii. The question paper may be sent in the page-maker file format.

    iv. The paper then requires to be converted into a MS word file. The original file may be opened in the page maker software. Each page of the question paper must be copied and pasted in the MS word document.

    v. if the candidate is appearing in English Medium, the Jaws software may speak gibberish where Hindi text appears, all Hindi language text must be deleted from the question paper.

    vi. This MS word file must be password protected.

    vii. Answer sheet- One blank MS-word document may be created on the Computer and shortcut to this may be created on the desk-top. This blank document must have the paper size and margins set according to the extension sheets of the answer sheet on which the final print-out will be taken. Viii. The role-number and other details of the candidate must be filled on the original sheet by the invigilator using normal pen. These extension sheets must be stapled with each sheet of the original answer sheet. Each sheet must be signed by the invigilator.

    8.. The candidate must be allowed to have access to the Computer 10 minutes before the start of examination time.

    9.. X. At the time of start of examination, the password for the question paper file must be told to the candidate.

    12. Other Disabled Candidates

    Although the aforesaid guidelines are specifically for Visually disabled candidates these guidelines may be used by the Examining authorities while conducting examinations for other candidates suffering from disability whether permanent or temporary.

  6. Dear Sir,

    Let me thank you, first of all, on behalf of all the disable fraternity in the campus for timely initiative of opening your blog for such an important but extremely neglected issues of students with disabilities (SWDs).

    “As a research scholar in the area of disability studies, I humbly wish to add to some of the above comments…….”

    1. Responsibilities of Administration:

    • There is an urgent need for a thorough analysis of the situation existing to be done in order to realize all the ‘quoted facts’ in the discussions happening on campus
    • Based on the findings of the study need to establish program goals can be framed
    • The interpretation of court/government bodies rulings affecting services for students immediately.

    2. Suggestions about services for the SWDs:
    • The ‘Designated Officer’ needs to respond to inquiries from prospective student or their parents for which concerned official details are provided both in the University website and also in the prospectus.
    • Maintain confidentiality about their disability in the documentation to keep and respect their privacy.
    • Consultations should be done with the students about appropriate individualized accommodation based up on the documentation which should be the criterion at the time of admission.
    • There should be a constant consultation between the ‘Officer’ who looks after the needs of students such as health services, Chief Warden, Dean Student Welfare (DSW) and counselling services (Well, as a member of the campus community….I’m ignorant about such representative’s existence in our university).
    • Arrange auxiliary aides for students at every department.
    • The ‘Need Officer’ should always coordinate assistants for students with disability (SWDs) like their note takers, interpreters, readers etc.

    3. Consultation/Collaboration with like-minded & civil society groups in city:

    • There are about 50 organizations working in and around Hyderabad city on disability. They are always ready associate with educational institutions like ours.
    • We can think of possibilities to collaborate with them to ensure modification to campus facilities.
    • Indeed, these organizations are good at maintaining the up-to-date knowledge about the adoptive/assistive technology for SWDs. That, I hope, would change the face of the SWDs in the campus.
    • Why can’t we conduct campus wide disability awareness activities like Disability Awareness Day (July 10th), World Disability Day (December 3rd.) and among other related/allied events.) However, we have celebrated International Braille Day n 4th of January 2011, could not find the presence of student with ‘other disabilities’. In order to make these programs a success, I anticipate that the department of communication like SN school always be in forefront and more than willing to extend all the required support with its arms of both UoH Dispatch (Print) and recently launched Bol Hyderabad ( campus radio).

    I also thank particularly to Prof.Vinod Pavarala, Prof.Murali Atluri and Mr.Suresh Kumar Digumarthi for their intuitive insights and observations which helped me to come up with the afore mentioned ideas .

  7. @ Nookaraju,

    1. we have ‘Empowerment Committee’ chaired by Prof. G. Umamaheswararao, who is very much sensitive towards such issues, in which DSW is also a member along with some students.

    2. Our university has been organizing Lois Braille birth anniversary celebrations in every January

    3. I still agree with you that we need to sensitize the campus in terms our debate.

  8. It is so thrilling to have played some role in what seems to be a fantastic awakening at UoH. Rather than following the link provided by the VC – which could result in damaging your eyes in view of the size of the print, it might be easier to look at the paragraph titled `Literary Pursuits’ in my home page at the url http://www.imsc.res.in/~sunder/ and follow the links therein.

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