Gujarat National Law University sets up Enabling Unit for disabled students
Where some of India's oldest and most highly regarded academic institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have failed, the Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) is showing the way forward.
The GNLU has set up an Enabling Unit (EU) for students with disabilities, a momentous development spearheaded by Maitreya Shah, a blind law student here. In 2015, when Shah enrolled here, he struggled in the absence of basic accessible facilities.
I faced struggles from day one on many counts. There were elevators only in the academic and administrative blocks, which meant the rest of the campus was inaccessible. The exams were not conducted according to the guidelines set down for students with disabilities. Nor were there assistive devices. There was no facility even for a scribe. Even the tables at the canteen were not accessible. Because it is an autonomous institute, no one had bothered to follow the accessibility guidelines. - Maitreya Shah, Law student, Gujarat National Law University
When his repeated appeals went unnoticed, Shah sought the help of disability rights leader Dr Satendra Singh, thanks to whose efforts, the EU at the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) in New Delhi was established.
"Shah sought my help as I was the one who established the EU at my medical college, the only EU in any medical college in India, and I was Founding Coordinator for 5 years," says Dr Singh, who decided to pursue the matter. Dr Singh wrote to GNLU authorities pointing out that there was no EU as per University Grants Commission guidelines.
In 2017 the GNLU authorities set up an EU headed by faculty convenor, who is also disabled. Currently, there are about 20 students with disabilities at the GNLU and the focus is on addressing basic needs. In the last six months, authorities have sanctioned close to Rs 2.5 lakh on setting up accessible facilities.
"We have JAWS software and a PEARL scanner with Open Book software package so visually impaired students have instant access to printed material. There is a separate room in the library for disabled students to work from as well," says Shah.
At a time when the close-minded, rigid approach towards inclusion from premier institutions can be discouraging, this is an inspiring example of how patience and sustained persistence can open doors. "I feel the best approach is to build up support from within and use the law to change attitudes," says Shah.
The EU at GNLU now has ambitious plans of launching a single disability policy across all national law universities (NLUs). They are working on creating a single draft to share with all NLUs and build consensus.