Fighting for the bare minimum
At Jahangirnagar University (JU), there's no books available in braille, neither is are there reserved seats in the dorms for students with disabilities.
As a result, these students are slipping through the cracks, as authorities do not provide them any special facilities that they desperately need.
Every year, many students get admitted to JU under the "disability quota". But with no official penmen available, the students have to go through a lot of hassle when sitting for tests and in classes. Moreover, the university is yet to have special funds to introduce a scholarship for their educational expenses.
"I have no opportunity to tutor or get any kind of part-time job. The visually impaired, like me, have to deal with an ocean of suffering," said Saiful Islam, a student of JU's history department. "My family could barely support me. I don't have an income source nor does the university give me a scholarship. How do I continue my studies?"
Since there are no reserved seats for them, the students said they have to stay at "mini gono room" at the dorms.
Abul Kalam, a visually impaired student who is struggling to live in such a room, said, "I had tried to manage a single seat upstairs, but failed after repeated attempts. This room can at best accommodate two students, but eight of us are staying here." Neither house tutors nor the hall's provost ever came to see them, he claimed.
"The day before my exam, I had to spend at least an hour to find a penman who would sit with me for the test... An organisation called PDF (Physically-challenged Development Foundation) tries to help us, but it's not enough. I have to depend on the mercy of others," he added.
"They don't provide books in braille for us. We have to face problems in the library too; we can't find the books we want to read there. Our central library doesn't have any special corner for braille books," said Sharmin Akhter, a student of government and politics.
Those who have other forms of physical disability face a host of other problems too. For example, there are no ramps in buildings for those who use wheelchairs. This simple issue can have major implications. In many cases, some students had to get admitted into departments situated at the ground floor just for this, despite being qualified to enrol in their preferred subjects.
Contacted, Dr Syeda Fahliza Begum, director of students' welfare and consultation centre of JU, said, "No special fund or scholarship has been introduced for them. We will discuss with the university authority in this regard. A special fund can be very helpful."
Asked about arranging reserved seats, Dr Mohammad Mujibur Rahman, president of the hall provost committee, said, "That will be a good initiative, and we'll discuss the matter. We will try to manage a floor for them in our new halls. I will discuss this with our vice-chancellor."
Rahima Kaneez, acting registrar of JU, said, "We are thinking of introducing braille books and ensuring extra facilities in the library."