Dr Abdul Hamid Fazili the coordinator of the Disability Unit at Aligarh Muslim University explains how they have made their campus and education more accessible for differently-abled students
AMU makes conscious efforts to assist disabled students from the time of enrolment to finding employment, and improve the quality of life on campus for them. To this end they have established a Disability Unit where trained volunteers aid in catering to the needs of differently-abled students. Aligarh Muslim University has the highest number of disabled students and has made concerted efforts to enable a full rounded educational experience for them.
The 5WH in brief
Who: Dr Abdul Hamid Fazili, Coordinator, Disability Unit,AligarhMuslimUniversity,Aligarh
What: Is currently heading the Disability Unit at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)
When: Disability Unit established on September 27, 2002; Ahmadi School for the Visually Challenged established in 1923
Why: To help differently-abled prospective students get admission in AMU and better integrate with other students
Where: Aligarh Muslim University,Aligarh
How: By setting up a Disability Unit which actively works for the welfare of differently-abled students, by sensitising volunteers to the needs of differently-abled students, by creating and procuring appropriate infrastructure and aids for differently-abled students and by running a school for the visually blind.
University Grants Commission (UGC) norms prescribe 3% reservation of seats for disabled applicants. Reservation is seen as a means to help these physically challenged students study further and assimilate better in society. To help universities implement this reservation, the UGC offers several grants.
Left out in the cold
The National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People conducted a study of Indian universities on the education scenario for students with disabilities. Just over a third of universities sent the questionnaire responded. The results were quite shocking. Only 0.1% of the students enrolled in the respondent universities were found to be disabled, in stark contrast to 3% reservation for disabled students. Also, only 20% universities had made arrangements to improve access for disabled students and procure appropriate learning aids to assist such students. Worse, half of the respondents claimed to not be aware of UGC schemes to promote higher education for disabled students. Aligarh Muslim University and Benaras Hindu University were found to have the highest number of disabled students on their rolls.
Opening doors for the differently-abled
Aligarh Muslim University takes reservations for differently-abled students very seriously. Here are some measures it has implemented to help such students:
DISABILITY UNIT: Aligarh Muslim University has created a Disability Unit with a grant from the Ministry of Social Justice & Welfare, routed via the UGC. The grant falls under the UGC Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs project.
Staffed by a coordinator, counsellor and two office assistants, the unit helps differently-abled applicants get admission to the 3% seats reserved for them. Post admission, the staff guides differently-abled students and counsels them individually and in groups. “We keep our eyes and ears open to identify cases of maladjustment, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem. Such students are referred to the Psychiatry Department of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, AMU, for expert counselling. It is important to help students integrate,” says Dr Abdul Hamid Fazili, Coordinator, Disability Unit, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Solving student’s day to day problems such as boarding and lodging and transportation challenges is top priority. So is developing a personal rapport with the students.
Team members also plan and conduct orientation programmes to sensitise volunteers to the needs of disabled persons and general issues concerning disabilities. For instance, during a sensitisation programme held in 2013, Professor Mahmood S Khan of the Department of Psychology discussed socio-psychological perspectives of disability and methods to approach differently-abled students. Professor PK Mathur of the Department of Sociology, himself visually challenged, shared his personal experience, common challenges visually challenged individuals face and ways to overcome these hardships. Placement Officer Dr Mohd. Abid Siddiqui presented adjustment strategies aimed at motivating the physically challenged. He listed the symptoms of maladjustment and their impact.
According to Dr Fazili, “Differently-abled students are made aware of the role of volunteers through their practical engagement. For example, volunteers inspire differently-abled students to attend counselling and activity programmes arranged for their benefit.”
Disability Unit staff also assist disabled graduates to gain successful employment.
INFRASTRUCTURE: AMU has constructed 52 ramps at various locations to enable Barrier Free Access for differently-abled students. Investments in infrastructure are ongoing. In 2013, the Disability Unit procured wheel chairs, crutches, a stick and printer for the Braille Section, Maulana Azad Library and Ahmadi School for the Visually Challenged. It gave the library’s Braille Section a grant of rupees one lakh to purchase more audio and video players and storage devices.
“We are constructing a new building to house the library’s Braille Section. It will be better equipped and will conform to the general library timings,” shares Dr Fazili.
The university distributed Angel, a reading support device to 54 blind students in 2013. Angel helps students to record lectures and copy material from computers to read and review at their convenience. Not to mention that it doubles up as an entertainment device.
Scholarships: The Disability Unit team helps students apply for scholarships offered by the Department of Social Welfare, Uttar Pradesh state government, and by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. AMU offers its visually challenged students rebates in admission, examination and hostel fees and dining charges. A new proposal pending approval will allow handicapped students to also get concessions in their mess charges. “Fifty percent of the cost will be borne by the individual provost of the hall in which the students reside, and the other half will come from the Vice Chancellor’s fund,” says Dr Fazili.
Ahmadi School for the Visually Challenged: AMU stands out for having a secondary school for visually challenged students on campus. Established 1923, its presence allows physically challenged candidates to school as well as undergo higher studies on the AMU campus.
Well enabled differently-abled
In the 2013 academic year, AMU had 239 differently-abled students on its rolls including 5 doctoral candidates. Of these, 186 were male and 53 were female students. That year, 118 freshers were admitted, 93 for undergraduate courses and 25 for post graduate courses. And 33 of the new admissions were female students.
Additionally, AMU had 131 differently-abled children studying in schools on campus. The majority of these, 108, were studying in the Ahmadi School for the Visually Challenged.
Differently-abled students currently make up only 0.63% (0.97% if school children are counted as well) of AMU’s total student population of over 38000. Still, Dr Fazili hopes efforts to reach out to such students will help grow their numbers.
Having an active Disability Unit has made AMU more responsive to the needs of differently-abled students. “Student volunteers and differently-abled students have suggested organising co-curricular activities for disabled students to provide them opportunities to show their talents. So we organise singing and dancing events. We also organise sports activities for disabled students to compete against other students. Last year, differently-abled students actually won a cricket match played against the others,” shares Dr Fazili.
Winning matches on campus is a small but positive start to winning the game of life.