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Accept, Respect, Empower each other - Guest Column by Tapas Bharadwaj

A final year student of law at Amity Law School in Delhi, Tapas Bharadwaj is a visually impaired person. An NTSE scholar, Tapas has won awards from the Ministry of Environment & Forests. Through this article, he wants to share his learnings with the larger disabled community in India.

I was born at six and a half months, 250 grams weight, to a joint family in Delhi. Everyone was excited but there was tension as I was very premature, and few babies of this age survive. I was in an incubator for three months.

My family got to know I was blind when the nursery staff handed me to them. They accepted me as I am and looked for places where my vision could be restored. I was taken to Shankar Nethralaya in Chennai for an operation but there was no improvement.

My family was not aware that people with visual disabilities could study. This is true for many families even today and I I don't blame them for thinking like this. I would like to emphasise on the role government and advertising agencies can play in changing this perception and to tell the world that disabled people have as much right to an education as a non-disabled person. This is urgently needed, even more so in remote areas.

Hard choices

I was admitted to a blind school and my mother escorted me to school and stay until the end of day. Then came the decision to choose between a special school and a integrated one. My family chose the second option and I was sent to Delhi Public School in RK Puram.

I learned to interact with non-disabled students, there were many challenges. One, was that I was not able to communicate in English because in the special school, there was not much focus on language. I would like to emphasise that special schools should take more efforts in teaching English language.

Another challenge that I had to submit my work to teachers, but they did not know braille. My father bought me a computer and I was given a separate place. I felt secluded for some days because other children used to sit with their friends, and I had to sit at my computer table. However, I told myself that my focus was studies. Every time, I had to take part in any school competition, it was a challenge for me to read the library books as they were in printed form so my brothers would read out them out.

After I finished with school, I sat for coaching for law entrance exams. Every coaching centre turned me down until I found AB Tutorials which provided me with accessible materials to study. I was the all India topper in the special category in 2015.

I am now in my final year of law and I chose this stream because it's a means of empowerment. My family has been a constant source of strength in my journey and they have always urged me to do my best. My family also took guidance from other families with disabled children. These include the parents of Kartik Sawhney who works in Microsoft, Diwakar Sharma, who is a singer and Tamanna Chona, who has established an NGO for the betterment of lives of persons with disabilities.

Through this article, I want to ask people with disabilities and their families to move hand in hand so that everyone's disability turns to ability. This needs constant interaction between the families of persons with disabilities to form friendships and create awareness about solutions to their challenges.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to be united and adopt the mantra of "Accept, respect and empower each other.

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