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Times of India
15 October 2010
By Laxmi Birajdar
Pune, India

All that several visually impaired students want is enough learning material to make academic progress.

More books in Braille, audio tapes and other ways to help them learn are needed, said experts who train them. The Braillevani web radio at the University of Pune produces and airs academic programmes for the blind.

"We started audio programmes for the blind to make optimum use of sound to impart practical, hands–on lessons. We also make programmes that include both the visually impaired and sighted students, because the gap between the blind and the sighted needs to be filled," said Satish Navale, who spearheads Braillevani.

He cited a government scheme announced in August 2009 that provides educational support to the blind students, but has not been availed of properly in Maharashtra.

"The scheme allows any secondary school or college with at least five visually impaired students to employ a qualified teacher, preferably an MA B Ed to cater to such students. Each of these blind students is entitled to a yearly allowance of Rs 3,000. There are at least five colleges in Pune that blind students go to. But none have made use of the government scheme," said Navale.

Revving up a child’s imagination through hands–on games and tools, is important, said Vikram Dubal, who has been tutoring blind students for 10 years.

"Personal attention to every blind student is a must as is exposure to issues. Blind students should be engaged in innovative activities to boost their thinking power and knowledge," said Dubal. He recently developed a machine that can make stickers in the Braille.

"These stickers can be used by the blind to identify objects and places around their immediate surroundings," said Dubal.

However, books in Braille bring respite to blind students who have the reading habit. "A lot of blind students benefit from books on various topics in Braille," says Saroj Tole, who makes and provides a variety of Braille books to interested people, through Fulora Braille Publication, a part of the NGO, Chaitanya Pratishthan.

"We have requests for books on philosophy and spirituality, especially from the elderly," she said. Dhananjay Bhole, a faculty at the blind students’ learning centre in the University of Pune, makes use of various softwares to teach them.

"Braille books and audio tapes are no more considered modern means of teaching the blind. The computer is a must for any blind student and educational institutions catering to the visually impaired should invest in them," said Bhole.

Such impaired students are often denied career options in the science stream, said Bhole. He traversed a challenging path to completing his post–graduation in science. "Blind students are often told that they are unfit to pursue careers in science. I had to get the paper work done from a top state government official for approval to pursue a postgraduate course in science," said Bhole.

Most blind schools teach the syllabus designed by the state government. "We have customised it to suit visually impaired students. However, the students may not be able to perform all the practicals given in this syllabus. Changes that include more practicals that suit the blind students are necessary. Suggestions from teachers should also included," said Chandrakant Bhonsale, principal of the Poona Blind School.

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