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Education for Differently Abled in India:

Say “differently abled,” and many people think of brain-damaged students, or ones who use wheelchairs and respirators. Newspapers, magazines, and television just reinforce this image. But examining such students and the scope of their education in colleges reveal a far different picture. There’s a lot more to the 3% of the reserved seats for admissions in the IITs, NITs, Delhi University other Indian colleges – and education for differently abled in our country – than meets the eye.

An Overview of Statistics

According to the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), a survey conducted in 2003 revealed that out of nearly 7 lakh university students, only about 1500 or 0.2% were disabled. Among them, about 75 percent were orthopedically disabled, and the remaining were visually- and hearing-impaired students. The enrolment rate of such students at the college level was at 0.5 percent.

The survey was re-conducted a decade later, which showed that the situation had hardly improved. Students with disabilities filled 0.56 percent out of the 3 percent allotted to them in all public institutes of higher education. 74 percent of students were male while the female students occupied a meagre 23 percent.

The True Picture of Education for Differently Abled Students

Many Indian colleges lack the proper infrastructure and facilities for admitting differently abled students. Let’s look at the case of a physically-challenged student Shrikanth Bolla. He was born blind and refused admission in the IITs in 2009. He graduated from MIT and is now the CEO of a fifty-crore company at the age of twenty-three. Another example is the visually-impaired Kartik Sawhney, who was denied permission to appear for the IIT-JEE exam for three years. He got a fully-funded scholarship for a five-year engineering course from Stanford University.

Both of them were refused by the IITs as they lacked the proper facilities and resources to cater to blind students. Proper infrastructure is one of the main reasons differently abled students are refused admission. Such students require special laboratories, toilets, ramps or other infrastructural facilities for safety, which many institutes fail to provide in India.

Though there are some scholarships such students can avail, the sum offered is often paltry. The National Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities awards a scholarship of thousand rupees for hostellers and students are given a maximum of ten-thousand rupees for their course fee. It is a trifling sum compared to the hefty fee required for such courses and also adds to their existing problems. Thus, opportunities for the differently abled candidates in India are less, and people like Shrikanth and Kartik succeed only due to their determination.

Read our article Indian Education System Needs Serious Reforms to get a better perspective.

Placement Problems

The latest research blames technological and infrastructural barriers at higher educational institutions for the low enrollment rate, and consequently, low placement rates of the disabled. Female students were found facing double-discrimination — 22% of them were enrolled at universities; as opposed to the 74.08% enrollment rate for males. While college placement cells work to get disabled students access to jobs, recruiter apprehension is also an obstacle.

What Does the Law Say?

The Right to Education Act focuses on inclusive education and equal opportunities, stating that all students, whether disabled or not, have access to education in mainstream schools and colleges. Legal guidelines for educational institutions emphasise ramps and other infrastructural facilities to ensure free movement of physically challenged students.

In the case of students with learning disabilities (LD) such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the exam marking system is different, with special exam rules.

The University of Mumbai, Bombay High Court as well as the Ministry of Social Justice have laid down specific guidelines for examinations, including extra time, large fonts and the use of scribes.

Recently, the MHRD has also announced a complete fee waiver for the differently abled students studying in the IITs. Hopefully, such a measures will encourage more students to take up engineering and science courses in the IITs.

To conclude, when it comes to higher education, the physically-disabled still have limited choices. However, most institutes definitely have the intent to educate students with special needs, but not all of them have the necessary funds, space or technology to reach out to different disabilities. As there is a level of customization required to educate such children, sustained efforts must be put into the cause for better results.

Education for differently abled can improve, as demonstrated by some differently abled IITians. Read about them here.

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