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Meet the 3 teachers who are enabling blind & low vision students to ace competitive exams

Today on Teachers Day we start a month-long campaign called #ThankYouTeacher on teachers who are making a difference to the lives of people with disabilities. Our first story is on three teachers in Bengaluru. Common Admission Test (CAT) and banking entrance exams can be hard to crack for visually impaired aspirants given the multiple barriers in school and college. Srilatha Yegneshwar, Satyavani Vempati and Mamata Mutt are helping to break that glass ceiling.

At 18, Vishal Kumar Jain had left school and given up on the idea of studying further.A visually impaired person, he was in search of guidance when a chance conversation with volunteers at an NGO led him to Satyavani Vempati, Srilatha Yegneshwar, and Mamata Mutt.

"I had moved to Bengaluru from Bellary in search of prospects when I found out about them", says Vishal, who is a Human Resources Consultant with a European-based multinational in Bengaluru. "They got me back to my education, got me back to college and helped me prepare for the Common Admission Test (CAT). Vani ma'am would teach me on Skype and sometimes at her place".

Vishal went on to do an MBA at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L) , one of the innumerable blind and low vision students that the teachers have taught since 1999.

They gave me a direction at a critical time, a sense of confidence and propelled me towards focusing on what matters the most. They made me feel that its not enough to make use of opportunities that come my way but create my own opportunities because I will not always get what I want. They guided me on how to work with the environment and find solutions. - Vishal Kumar Jain, Human Resources Consultant

Coming Together

Srilatha, who has a doctorate in history and archaeology from the Delhi University met with Satyavani, called Vani ma'am by students, and Mamata at the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled centre in Bengaluru. "I always wanted to work with visually impaired people, there's no special reason why", says Srilatha. In the beginning, they would edit the books scanned by the NGO as there were no converters. "Now the Internet has opened up a big world for them".

Teaching visually impaired students is not easy, says Vani, who taught high school chemistry for many years. "Their basics are weak. Its very hard to teach them geometry for instance as they are not exposed to it in school in an accessible way."

In the first three months, the teachers focus on imparting basics. "The CAT syllabus is vast", says Vani. "Mamata would take up the chapters and I would then concentrate on data interpretation". Srilatha would focus on language skills.

Between them they have figured out methods to teach quickly. "A lot of us get access to books and don't think about why a certain sentence or verb is used the way it is", points out Srilatha. "I had a lot to learn myself specially to teach for CAT because many of them do not read or are unfamiliar with the language. I was trying to help them to crack the code. We learned along with them and it is an individual approach, no specific one as such".

Vineet Saraiwala, who leads inclusion at Big Bazaar and has an MBA from IIM Bangalore, is among their many students. He says meeting them was a 'blessing in disguise'.

"A month before I took my CAT, I was not able to answer some questions", recalls Vineet, who used to take classes online with his brother Anuj. "I started crying in the middle of a lecture so Mamata ma'am split us up into two classes which was so sweet of her because she was giving us the double the time. I was suffering from exam anxiety and she boosted my confidence. Vani ma'am even taught us how to interact with the scribe and gave us shortcut techniques of answering questions faster".

Anuj, who works in an investment banking firm in Mumbai, says the teachers fired them up with a can-do spirit. "They gave me confidence and made me me feel I can do this. That the right attitude was key."

Vineet and Anuj finally met the teachers only after they cracked the exams. "They did not charge us a single penny. We never knew such people existed".

The teachers, on their part, say their students have taught them important life lessons.

"I have learned patience from teaching visually impaired people", says Vani. "They are so much more patient, and I love the way they approach the subject". We treat them like they are our children, adds Srilatha. "Many of them come with some emotional baggage and we are far more patient with them. We take so many things for granted. Their lives are hard, but they remain so cheerful. Seeing them, I have learned to stop cribbing".

For Vishal, the teachers remain mentors even today. "Once I asked them why they did this and the answer was the satisfaction of seeing someone grow. That has given me direction and led me to look at ways to give back to society".

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