Focus on use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), to ensure differently abled lead an inclusive life, has stolen the attention from the real difficulties they face from the physical barriers. This is significant from the representations they have time and again made demanding a barrier-free environment.
While, most differently abled have easy use of audio-visual aids, equipment, computers and softwares to assist them, what remains elusive is the physical access to various places by virtue of these not being disabled-friendly. This is in terms of absence of ramps, lifts to accommodate wheel chairs, modified washrooms, etc. This becomes critical when these places are schools / colleges / universities.
This year, only a few higher education institutions have been able to admit students under the three per cent quota for the differently abled. Out of these, only a handful of colleges have admitted students in double digits. And, this is not because those with disability are not interested in pursuing higher, but because the institutions do not provide an environment conducive to them.
Even those who choose to pursue higher education are those with lesser percentage of disability.
Persons with disability of 70 per cent and above, and others who are confined to wheel chairs do not prefer to go to colleges because the infrastructure is not suited to their condition.
Though there is an Act – The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 – to ensure equal opportunities, higher education still remains a distant dream.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has schemes to provide grants for creating facilities in colleges that are 2 (f) and 12 (B) approved, and universities, but since the institutions do not take interest in applying for these, the schemes go unused.
But the recent State Government Order Ms. No. 21 (Tamil Nadu Urban Local Bodies Rules 2013 of February 1, 2013), the implementation of which comes with a time frame of 180 days, has brought some hope. The G.O. calls for making public and multi-storeyed buildings disabled-friendly in six months.
R. Rajendran, Principal of PSG College of Arts and Science, says, “The college has used the grant from UGC under the XI Fiver Year Plan, along with its own funds, to make existing buildings disabled friendly. Work is going on in phases to put up ramps, modify washrooms, etc. Some washrooms are already in use.”
More than 90 differently abled applied here for UG admission and the college admitted nearly 40 students based on eligibility and three per cent quota.
Visually challenged, and those who are hearing and speech impaired prefer to go to institutions that are exclusive for persons like them. However, there are only special schools and not colleges to accommodate them.
Nevertheless, Nithya Ramachandran, Deputy Joint Director, Sankara College of Arts and Science, says the college admits those with hearing and speech impairment.
“Special infrastructure, aids and faculty have been arranged to cater to these students. It requires special effort to provide them with an atmosphere that is conducive to study,” she says.
On colleges constructing infrastructure suited to the differently-abled, Ms. Ramachandran says that self-financing colleges do not get any provision from any source for taking up such activities.
Though the UGC provides grants, these are restricted only to colleges that have been approved under Sections 2 (f) and 12 (B) and not those recognised under Section 2 (l), which are not declared fit to receive central assistance.