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“One should focus on opportunities than needs”

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Dipti Bhatia.
Dipti Bhatia.

Meera Srinivasan

Things have changed, but questions are still the same: Dipti

Chennai: She is one of those who makes you feel “Oh, it seems like I've known her for ages” soon after meeting her. With unmistakable enthusiasm coupled with sharp wit Dipti Bhatia, Deputy Director of non-governmental organisation Vidya Sagar, speaks about her experiences working in the field of disability and inclusion. As a teenager, Dipti, who was trying for Plus Two admissions, walked up to a school correspondent and said: “I know Braille. I can listen to your teachers and take down my notes in Braille. Let us try it out for a month. If it doesn't work out, I will move out. ” Mr. Cornelius, the then correspondent of Vidyodaya School, was convinced and admitted her.

After her first ten years of schooling at Little Flower Convent and Plus Two at Vidyodaya, Dipti went to Ethiraj College to pursue a Bachelors degree in History, and later did her Masters and M.Phil there.

Though it sounds like a smooth journey, it came with its share of problems. With hardly any technological aid and few readers' associations then, it meant tremendous hard work, commitment and enthusiasm.

Looking for a job after that was no easy task, either. “To think of it now it's fun. But then, it wasn't. I went for interviews and more interviews.” When she actually landed a lecturer's job through the Employment Exchange, she wasn't willing to take it up. “By then, I had started volunteering here [Vidya Sagar] and got addicted to this place.”

The addiction has lasted nearly two decades now and she is currently all excited about the organisation's upcoming 25th year celebration.

Inclusion cell

Asked about her specialisation in the field of inclusion, she said: “I joined as a teacher first, and in the early 1990s one of our students Rajiv passed his class X. After that when he was trying to move out, we learnt a lot together.”

Dipti later headed the inclusion cell there and took up several related issues and has been looking at the scope in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

On whether things have changed in the last few years, she says: “Of course! Loads. But the questions are still the same – Can my teachers handle? Will other children interact? Will the children be secure and looked after? The awareness has surely improved in schools. And now that you have the Right to Education Act, we're even safer. Things will happen.”

With so much work on hand, how does Dipti unwind? “I listen to hindustani instrumental music, or get in touch with friends or read, or write poems,” says the Tagore fan.

Speaking of her interest in books, a lot needs to be done in the area of audio books, she emphasises. “However, Braille is a boon. Increasingly, persons with visual impairment are not learning it as there are several technological aids. But Braille makes you really independent. It's like you guys reading and writing.”

On the general attitude to disability, she says: “There is diversity in disability, but there are also common rights. The focus has to be on opportunities rather than needs. For example, my need is the information in a library, the access is the opportunity. And that is my right.”

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