Challenges in childhood
My elder sister and I are visually challenged since birth. I was partially blind and just two years old when my parents got us admitted in a school and while learning to scribble my first letters, I realized I loved every bit of it! In the next few years, I continued to attend classes but in a school for ‘abled’ children, the exclusion I faced was palpable. I didn’t have friends and there was no one who helped me grasp the lessons. Some teachers were cooperative but there was no formal training to help students like me. With time, it got increasingly difficult to keep pace. All I did was go to school, take notes, and come back home, sapped of energy and enthusiasm. As much as I enjoyed studying, the excitement lulled when I thought of the challenges I was going to face the next day. I was young but the impact of ‘being different’ had started to affect me. These were still the primary years in education and I didn’t want to give up studies just because of my disability. Unaware and uniformed about academic institutions for differently abled students, my parents were worried about our future. It would’ve continued like this had it not been for that day in the District Collectorate’s office, where we went for some work, and came across a kind man who told us about the Ranga Rao Memorial School for the Disabled (RMSD).
New school and the gift of Braille
My sister and I joined RMSD and I got admission in Class 3. I still remember the first day so vividly! After years of anonymity in my previous school, I was delighted to hear my name echo through the classroom and corridors. The new beginning was marked by learning Braille and with every passing day, I kept getting better at it. So much so that I only used Braille till Class 12, without the help of any other device. Since my parents lived in Mysuru, I was a day scholar but even at home, my mother ensured that I follow a similar routine with strict discipline and sincerity. I learned a lot from my friends who stayed in the hostel and tried to imbibe their schedule.
To me, it was a surprise that the school knew what I needed to have, know and learn even before I knew it! Before I could ask for it, I had whatever I required. The comfort made me confident and I participated in all extracurricular activities. I also loved listening to news on the television and by the time I was in 9th std, I wanted to be a news anchor! I loved how they could read the news, expressing their emotions. It became my dream and I wanted to work hard towards it. I was told that they have a digital screen in front of them and they can read the news on it, while it appears to us as if their eyes are fixated on the camera! All of this fascinated me and I imagined that even with blurred vision, I would be able to make it happen, just like all other journalists I saw and aspired to be. However, in the next few years, I gradually lost my eyesight.
Turning problems into possibilities
After school, I joined college and decided to study my favorite subjects- Journalism, English and Public Administration. With the help of friendly devices, I was performing well but when I looked at career options available to visually impaired people in the field of journalism, I found that the scope was surprisingly limited. A little demotivated with my research, I spoke to my mentors who encouraged me to aim higher. They informed me about the Indian Civil Service Exam which gives an opportunity to candidates like me, people having some form of physical disability. Stepping out in the competitive world for an exam held in such high esteem, opened a whole new world of possibilities for me!
At the end of final year in college, I was felicitated for securing the third rank in the Department of Arts. I was humbled at my achievement. From those days in childhood when I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to continue my studies, I had come a long way.
A step towards the goal
Along with pursuing M.A. English, I am also preparing for the Civil Services Exam. I found some websites that help us convert text books in formats conducive to visually challenged students for reading. To my luck, I also came across an NGO in Maharashtra that provides free online coaching to all kinds of differently abled students. I now have friends from different states who want to think and act beyond their disabilities and nurture hope for a better future. We are all strength and a source of positivity for each other and are connected through mails and messages.
My parents never made us feel that we are any different from others and did everything to give us the best education and environment to live our dreams. I hope I make them proud with my hard work. I am yet to reach my destination but the journey in itself is a lesson in life and for that I am grateful to everyone along the long road.
Education is everything
As a girl, I have realized that education is our gateway to earn respect, self-reliance and a dignified life. We don't need sympathies, just the right opportunities to grow and march forward towards our goal. Help is very important but it has to start with us. We don't have to limit and pity ourselves. There's no scope for that when we dream big. As the adage says, God helps those who help themselves!