R. Gopalakrishnan knows the importance of having proper scribes. He now trains college students to act as scribes for visually impaired students from Tamil medium institutions

He worked part time as a telephone operator in a computer company, and learnt to assemble the parts of a system and install software in just three days. When he is not doing that, he is coaching students for their entrance examinations or preparing for his own IAS exams. R. Gopalakrishnan trains college students to act as scribes for students with disabilities. He himself has recently finished his BA in Tamil Literature at Government Arts College and is visually impaired.

Twenty-six-year-old Gopal was born with the impairment. He lives in Singanallur with his mother and younger brother, who is also visually impaired. “I want to be a school teacher and an IAS officer,” he says. “So far, only one visually challenged person from Coimbatore — Dinakaran — has gone on to clear his IAS exams. I want to be the second one.”

Teaching, a passion

Having finished college earlier this month, Gopal now teaches Tamil, Social Science, Current Affairs and Science to students, some of them visually impaired. “These students are appearing for the Group IV Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission exams,” says Gopal. “I go to the Singanallur library every morning and prepare for my exams. In the evening, I teach these students whatever I have learnt. ”

Gopal underwent mobility training as a child and he can now travel independently. He has even trekked up to Beas Kund (Himalayas) with the National Adventure and Leadership School, Coimbatore!

Gopal did his schooling at C.S.I Boys Higher Secondary School and that was when he felt the lack of good scribes to help him write examinations. “When I was a student, I had a tough time getting scribes to write for me. I was a Tamil medium student,” he says. “It has always been this way for all Tamil medium students. We have struggled because we don't have too many people volunteering to write in Tamil for us. But there are a lot of people willing to write in English.” He mentions that this is one of the reasons why a lot of visually impaired students do not go in for Tamil-based subjects at school or college.

But when Gopal came to Government Arts College to study Tamil Literature, things weren't any better. “The scribes were often indifferent. They made a lot of mistakes because of their carelessness and we ended up losing marks. When we complained to the authorities about this, we were asked to bring our own scribes to the examination halls.” That was when Gopal decided to train his classmates to act as scribes for school and college students with special needs. Since his classmates were from Tamil medium schools, it was easy for him to train them. “Some of my classmates volunteered enthusiastically. During our training sessions, I would recite a paragraph, an essay or a letter from memory and ask them to write it all down. Following that, I would ask them to exchange the sheets and correct their neighbours' copies.” Gopal divided his students into two sets based on how good their handwriting was. “I would intensively train those with good handwriting so that they performed scribe duties, while the others helped out with reading out texts or recording for visually impaired students.”

Jagadeeswari, Panchavarnam and Angel, classmates of Gopal, have been volunteering as scribes for students at C.S.I. Boys School.

“Gopalakrishnan informs us whenever his teachers from that school tell him they needed scribes,” says Jagadeeswari. She has written quarterly and half yearly examinations for tenth standard boys, and has also helped a few students during their college semester examinations.

Gopal is now helping other visually impaired people by teaching them to operate a computer. He recently learnt to type in Tamil and he even wrote his last semester exam on a computer. He says, “It's very important to train visually impaired people to use the computer right from the school level. That way, we don't have to face scribe troubles anymore.”