It took 30 interviews before Rajesh Khanna, who holds an M.C.A. degree from a reputed city college, to land a job at a software company. “He would pass all the tests every time, but come back dejected after the H.R. round,” says his father Subburathinam.
Rajesh’s slurred speech, a giveaway sign of his cerebral palsy, came between him and a lucrative job, every time. But a year later, Mr. Subburathinam is a proud father, with his son earning more than Rs. 3 lakh a year as a software engineer in a top IT firm.
While children and adults with cerebral palsy are often looked upon with sympathy, those like Rajesh are a proof that parental support, efforts of service organisations, and inclusive nature of workplaces and educational institutions can go a long way in helping them pursue their passion. “Only 15 per cent of children with cerebral palsy are able to go in for higher education,” says Shanthakumar, director, of the Spastics Society, Tiruchi. “These are usually persons with an average I.Q. whose associated disorders like speaking or writing difficulties are not severe.”
It was an initiative by Enable India, CBM, and Spastics Society of India, which helped Rajesh get placed. “At present, my job is computer-based, but it may involve talking to clients in a month or two,” says Rajesh. Although apprehensive, he is hopeful he would deliver, by continuing speech therapy. But challenges are not new for the family, ever since their decision to admit him in a regular school, after early intervention.
“The first school refused us admission; the second admitted him on the condition we appoint a caretaker.” With the help of scribes, Rajesh was able to clear one milestone after the other.
If they can make it through school, gaining entry into a college is not a difficult task. Siddharth, who got admission in St. Joseph’s College here, is thrilled with the college experience.
The lad, who is largely dependent on a wheelchair, was initially sceptical about making new friends who would understand his condition. “My class is on the second floor. But every day I am able to go up and down because of classmates who lend a helping hand.” With his brother as inspiration, Siddharth is keen on doing M.C.A and has IAS as an option.
Support in the form of modifications at every stage help, believes Muthurekha, an MCA student, who has a passion for computers. Although she has an average intelligent quotient, Ms. Muthrekha has accumulated arrears as she writes slowly and her handwriting is often illegible. “For BCA, she was given one hour extension for examinations. Ever since she shifted to an engineering college for M.C.A, neither a scribe and nor a one-hour extension is allowed for examinations conducted by the Anna University,” says her mother.
But higher education is possible only for individuals with mild impairment. For persons whose condition is moderate, the focus in on mainstreaming them to regular schools while for those with profound disability, making them self-reliant and reducing the burden on parents by accessing government benefits, is a priority, says Mr. Shanthakumar.
Vijayaraghavan, who dropped out after class 10, worked as a service lift operator in a star hotel. Recently, thanks to the Employment Agency, he has a job as an attendar in a government agency. Inspired by his friends, Vijay has set his sights higher — his next goal is to finish Plus Two.
Workplaces should have inclusive policies