There is most always a helping hand close by, especially when it comes to differently-abled people. However, there are times when a simple solution can empower them.
In a bid to make their campus more 'friendly' and also make life easier and more dignified for such students, the University of Hyderabad (UoH) had approached the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment under the implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act and Equal Opportunities Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act, 1995–SIPDA, asking for provisions to improve infrastructure. The ministry in turn sanctioned the 'Creation of Barrier-Free Environment for differently-abled students', making UoH the first university in the country to implement it.
The six crore grant-in-aid will be used towards installing 18 lifts in 16 buildings on campus apart from establishing other features like tactile floorings, auditory signals, braille signage boards, ramps and railings among other facilities.
The buildings that have been identified include the Administrative building, Chief Warden’s Office, Science complex, Social Sciences, MBA building, M.Sc Electronics building, School of Life Sciences, the library, A.I Laboratory, and New Science Complex (Chemistry) among others.
“We have to complete the project within a year and we will soon be calling tenders for civil works as well as installation of lifts,” explained Sidhartha Reddy, university engineer. However, since the university has already been making sure that these students get accommodation only on the ground floor of hostels, they don’t see the need for installing lifts in these buildings.
According to Reddy, it was the Vice Chancellor’s initiative that led to a Delhi-based consultancy firm – AccessAbility – conducting a three-month disability audit of the buildings on campus.
Once the audit report was submmitted to the ministry, a two member team comprising of K Vikram Singha Rao, director of department of Disability Affairs and T Sivakumar, director of National Institute of Mental Health, Secunderabad, was dispatched to inspect the campus in August this year.
A sum of `5.81 crore was sanctioned by the ministry following their approval based on the report submitted, and `4.36 crores has already been released for completion of the project within a year’s time.
While only three per cent of the varsity's 4800 strong student population are differently-abled, administrators hope that a more 'friendly' environemnt will increase the numbers. “There are about 120-130 odd differently-abled students at present. But numbers have been increasing significantly in recent years, in particular, the number of visually challenged students. We want to make things better for them,” said Prof Rajasekhar, registrar, UoH.
As per the University Grants Commision (UGC), a differently-abled cell has to be formed if there are more than 10 such students in a varsity. In this regard, UoH has been running an Empowered Committee for the past four years. They also plan on starting a division for disability studies in the future. “There are some clarifications required. Whether it needs to be a center or a department and whether it needs to be academic or service-oriented is also being considered. For now, our academic council has approved an Equal Opportunity Cell which is an advanced form of the Empowered Committee, to be started by next month,” stated the registrar.