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Inclusive education should go beyond words - Guest Column by Sharada Devi V

Our guest columnist this week is Sharada Devi V from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, who is studying for her doctorate in English. Her area of research is Disability Studies. This is an account of her memorable experience at a conference in Bengaluru.

I have presented about 11 papers at different national and international seminars and conferences. Among them, five were presented after I started doing a Ph.D. The latest was at the International Conference on Reflections and Refractions on (Dis)ability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives organized by the Department of Humanities, Kristu Jayanti Autonomous College, Bengaluru in February this year.

What prompted me to write specially about this conference is the fact that it was conducted at a venue which is wheelchair-friendly. That is one of the main reasons why I took the effort to go to Bengaluru to participate in it. Also, my dear teacher Krishna Prabha ma'am is the Head of the Department of English there and my friend Sucheta works there as well. The support given by both of them was beyond words. Apart from these, Bengaluru is an accessible place to some extent with accessibility in buildings, transportation and all.

The two days at the conference offered me a great sense of visibility which I have never experienced in any of the earlier seminars and conferences. I noticed with immense pleasure that apart from the venue, some other areas within the sprawling campus were also wheelchair-friendly. Please note that all this is in a college with no physically challenged student until now.

Since the venue was wheelchair-friendly with ramp and lifts, I could attend all the sessions which I liked. Here in Kerala, this is not possible since most of the important sessions are held on upper floors where there are no lifts. This means I can only listen to the sessions where my paper presentations get scheduled. Apart from seminars and conferences, lectures and important talks are also on upper floors. I feel myself being totally invisible to everyone as I cannot make my presence felt there. The saddest part is that just because of this accessibility problem, I am missing out on a number of Ph.D open defences at the University of Kerala, which is a terrible loss for me as a research scholar. I am constantly thinking about how to solve this issue.

At Kristu Jayanti College, I found myself being warmly welcomed by the vibrant student volunteers. A bunch of them escorted me to the venue. Unlike most other events, punctuality was evident. At the scheduled time, the chief guests arrived and guest speakers were asked to limit their speech to the scheduled time. All the sessions were informative, especially the plenary session on Disability in the Media by Thomas Abraham from the University of Hong Kong.

Setting an example

Many seminars and conferences on disability studies are conducted in various parts of Kerala but all of them turn into a gathering of able-bodied people talking many things about persons with disabilities, without doing anything practically for them. The venues are inaccessible. I am thankful to the Kristu Jayanti College for enabling me to attend the conference. I was even happier when I heard that the college management after the conference, has decided to make other areas inside the campus accessible.

Kristu Jayanti College is a model for all educational institutions in Kerala. All educational institutions should be equipped with necessary accessible facilities for all differently-abled students. They should not wait for a differently-abled student for creating accessibility. Inclusive education should not remain only in words.

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