How this visually impaired woman from Karnataka scored 92pc in PUC exams, and also topped her class
Left blind at the age of three years after a case of typhoid, Vaishali’s intelligence, talent and determination have seen her not only fighting all odds to study, but also score top marks.
She started her studies a bit late – enrolling in Class I at 11 years of age – but that has not held Vaishali back from exploring her potential or competing with her classmates. The 23-year-old from North Karnataka recently made headlines scoring 92 percent in her pre-university (PUC) exams. What sets Vaishali apart from her classmates is that she lost her eyesight at the age of three following complications after she contracted typhoid, and compounded by lack of proper treatment in her village.
In India, over 250 million people are visually impaired, and 36 million of them are cpmpletely blind, according to a 2015 government survey. Under the Vision 2020 programme, India has pledged to bring down the incidence of blindness to 0.3 percent of the total population by 2020, by actively working on treatment of diseases that can cause blindness. However, more work needs to be done to ensure a better quality of life for visually impaired people in India.
Organisations such as Mitra Jyothi and Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in Bengaluru are among the many in the city and the country that are reaching out to the specially-abled, especially those in rural areas, training them in various skills and also helping them in their quest for a formal education.
Vaishali, one of six siblings, hails from Hoskera village in the North Karnataka district of Yadgiri. Her father is a truck driver and her mother a homemaker. According to the 2011 Census, only 27.5 percent people in the 4000-strong village were literate, and among women, that number was only 10 percent.
Confined at home because of her blindness, Vaishali wanted to study and lead a normal life. Her parents were finally persuaded to send her to school after being introduced to Dattu Agarwal, the founder of the Smt Ambubai Residential School for Blind Girls.
Determined to study, Vaishali completed her Class X in Yadgiri, where her teachers noticed her potential and encouraged her to apply to the Mitra Jyoti programme in Bengaluru.
Mitra Jyoti provides accommodation to visually challenged girls at a nominal cost, giving them the opportunity to work or study in Bengaluru. Moving to the city, Vaishali enrolled for and completed a computer course before starting her pre-university programme at the Government Independent PU College in HSR Layout.
“Her parents needed some convincing. They wanted her to study but they were worried about sending her away from home,” says Shyni Kuttappa, Vaishali’s tutor at Mitra Jyothi.
It takes a village
Mitra Jyothi was founded by Madhu Singhal in 1990 and works for people with disabilities, the visually impaired in particular. It focuses on creating a dialogue around disabilities, building awareness and equipping visual impaired people with basic life skills training. This helps them improve their employability, and provides them with the tools to lead a self-sufficient life.
“Vaishali walks to and from her college without any help. Mitra Jyothi trains students to be independent. They have been told all their lives that they are a burden, and at Mitra Jyothi they can rid themselves of that idea and learn to be independent,” Shyni says.
She has selected the arts stream and studies History, Economics, Political Science and Sociology along with Kannada and English.
In Vaishali’s case, recognising she was incredibly bright and required special attention to help her improve her scores, and since Shyni spoke Kannada, Mitra Jyothi decided she should tutor Vaishali three times a week, and give her extra attention to improve her English and Hindi.
“I liked everything about the hostel, even the food facilities. They were very helpful for all of us,” Vaishali says.
When Vaishali and Shyni met for the first time, Vaishali impressed her with her love for singing. Vaishali has a beautiful voice, but over time Shyni also saw her new student was very sharp, ha a good memory and never had to be told anything twice. “She really likes literature, especially Romeo and Juliet,” says Shyni.
Shyni has experience teaching children with various forms of disabilities, but this was her first time working with someone who was visually impaired. “Blind children are more hesitant to accept you. Winning Vaishali over was tough, I had to have a lot of patience. Vaishali took about two weeks to open up to me.”
Vaishali says she worked hard for her exams, and in that, found Mitra Jyoti’s Braille library very helpful. She completed her exams with the help of a scribe, and on her parents’ reaction, she says they were overjoyed. “They were very happy with my marks and want me to continue my studies,” Vaishali says.
Vaishali now plans to pursue a BA, and go on to be a history or political science lecturer. Mitra Jyothi has offered her a scholarship for her graduation and Shyni plans to continue tutoring her.
Advancements in educating visually impaired persons
For long, most resources available for the visually impaired were Braille books, and obtaining and storing them presented a challenge, especially for the underprivileged. Now, though, developments in technology have played a huge role in democratising access to educational resources for all.
Mitra Jyothi provides trainees with recorders that allow them to make notes from question papers, notes and textbooks. The organisation’s Education Resource Center also has a variety of fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, references and textbooks in multiple languages in the audio format, along with Braille.
As of now, Vaishali is enjoying a well-deserved break before college starts and, in this time, is indulging in her favorite hobbies - reading books and listening to music. She will return to Bengaluru, and Mitra Jyoti, in a few months to apply for colleges. The horizon is endless, and Vaishali is all set to take it on.