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Addressing Concerns of the Disabled in Delhi Campuses

University campuses in Delhi continue to be ill-equipped - physically and academically - to deal with issues related to the disabled. Unless there is a concerted effort to enhance facilities and bring the concerns of the disabled to the forefront, the disabled would continue to remain alienated from academia.

COMMENTARY

Addressing Concerns of the Disabled in Delhi Campuses

Nikhil Jain

University campuses in Delhi continue to be ill-equipped – physically and academically

– to deal with issues related to the disabled. Unless there is a concerted effort to enhance facilities and bring the concerns of the disabled to the forefront, the disabled would continue to remain alienated from academia.

Nikhil Jain teaches at the department of political science, Dyal Singh College, New Delhi.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 10, 2011

T
he university is a place for creative learning and a place of equality where young minds interact with experienced ones irrespective of social barriers. The primary objective of higher education is to include all sections of society in the mainstream by recognising their specificities and ensuring their equal and meaningful participation in academics. Regrettably, institutions of higher education have constantly fallen short in this objective by not providing equal space to marginalised sections – particularly persons with disabilities.

Disability is yet another form of human diversity. It is generally referred to as one form of physical deformity or disorder, but is much more than merely that. It could well be understood as an expression of social oppression which creates disabling conditions and hurdles that makes resources and the academic environment more inaccessible and unattainable for them. The key issue is of accessibility which is generally referred with respect to persons with disabilities, but might have an equal significance for others as well. For example, the provision of facilities such as ramps and lifts in academic institutions not only enables an orthopaedically challenged person, but also supports aged people. Similarly, audio archives support not only the visually impaired but also help in creating good backups of recorded lectures, useful for everyone in an academic set-up. The meaning of accessibility thus goes much deeper and beyond the needs of the physically disabled. It is a measure of the nature of connectivity of an individual to the larger academic environment and of the acquisition and access of resources by all in an institution of higher education.

This article attempts to explore the level of inclusion and space being provided to the persons with disabilities by central universities in Delhi, particularly by the University of Delhi (DU) in its structure and environment. Does the mode of teaching

vol xlvi no 50

and learning process touch this important discourse? Does the university system enable them to access resources and get the best of the academic environment? Universities in Delhi – considered the premier ones in the country – play important roles in academic reforms in general. It is there

fore important to look at the level of connectivity and involvement of the disabled with the mainstream here.

First, in infrastructural support for the physically challenged, the situation in DU is pretty grim. Except for a few colleges, there is virtually no provision of ramps in departments. The few available ramps are either dangerously steep (making it difficult for those using it) or do not connect crucial areas in the premises of many colleges. Very few staff rooms are connected with ramps or lifts making it difficult for teachers with orthopaedic disabilities. Many libraries are completely inaccessible, both in terms of structural connectivity as well as in the nature of and accessibility to reading material. Toilets are inaccessible, classrooms are not constructed in a manner that is usable by the disabled. For example, almost every classroom has a platform that cannot be accessed by those using wheelchairs and poses hurdles for visually impaired teachers who cannot move freely in class during their lectures. The seating arrangement in the class also impedes the mobility of disabled teachers and students. Scientific labs are not constructed in an accessible form for orthopaedically disabled teachers and students either.

The situation at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia in this respect is equally disappointing. They are full of structural barriers which impede the mobility of a disabled individual. In most cases, the old structure of many buildings has never been renovated. If renovated, they have been made more dangerous, violating the norms of the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995). The reasons for these deficiencies lie in the neglect and non-inclusion of the disabled in decision and policymaking processes and circles in the university.

Second, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has provided a one-time grant of Rs 5 lakh to colleges affiliated to the DU for making the academic premises disabledfriendly. Not only is this grant insufficient

COMMENTARY

to provide the necessary facilities, it is also unspent in various colleges. The lack of spending on facilities for the disabled speaks of a gross violation, exacerbated by the absence of social audits in these colleges. The social audit is an important parameter in judging the level of sensitivity towards the disabled and it is imperative that this process of social audit is carried out in colleges and departments of DU. The role of the UGC as a supervisory body is key in this endeavour.

Third, the non-implementation of centralised schemes such as the provision of “enabling units” in most colleges and departments especially in the DU is glaring. The situation is no better in universities such as JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia.

Apart from structural barriers, there are other social and pedagogically related barriers. There is paucity of reading material in accessible form for the visually impaired in DU. The Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC) which was established about five years ago has made some progress in providing reading material in accessible format but this has been limited. Colleges in DU lack accessible libraries, reading facilities and access to books and journals for the visually impaired teachers and students. There is a provision of a reading centre for the visually impaired in the JNU library, but it requires upgradation, while the facilities for them in Jamia Millia Islamia are certainly not up to the mark.

Difficulties for the hearing impaired are even more manifest in these universities. Apart from DU, no other university provides the facility of a sign language interpreter. There is hardly any support in terms of infrastructure and trained sign language teachers. The hearing impaired students and teachers have therefore been unable to attend seminars and conferences.

The exclusion of the disabled is also visible in the various associations representing teachers, students and non-teaching staff in universities and colleges. Disability has not got any recognition in the agenda for activists associated with various unions. There is therefore a missing link between members of academia with disabilities and the various forms of communities represented in campuses.

This situation is very clear even in politically active campuses such as JNU. Significantly, disability as an issue is emerging in the political scene in DU, and hopefully it should go a long way in further democratising the university.

There is also the need to establish a disability study centre on the lines of the women study centres in various universities

– which should help establish issues and documents works on the subject of disability and social sciences. All this requires a firm and consistent struggle against apathy and indifference towards the disabled. The status quo would only further alienate disabled sections from the larger ethos of the academia and universities.

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december 10, 2011 vol xlvi no 50

EPW
Economic Political Weekly

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