The sight of the blue skies | Daily News

The sight of the blue skies

Being one among 48 pupils was her toughest challenge. The requirement to learn 12 subjects was even worse. Answering the 12 question papers looked almost impossible. Worse still, the duration for one question paper was three hours. Sounds familiar? Probably not, if you are not visually impaired!

Hansi Pinipa’s life offers a grand narrative on how you can cut across the blindness barrier with the rod of determination. The visual disability came for Hansi with a package full of challenges. However, she chose not to give in. Grade I was her first hurdle. The class teacher at Dharmapala College, Pannipitiya, offered her a warm welcome. If not for that warmth, Hansi muses 16 years later, her fate would have taken a different course.

In July 2015, the Oslo Summit on Education for Development brought together members of the international community to discuss renewing and increasing their commitments to education. The event highlighted that the global ambitions of world leaders to eradicate poverty, break the cycle of humanitarian crises and lay the foundation for sustainable development cannot be reached without quality education for all. Sri Lanka is slowly reaching a certain level thanks to the painstaking efforts of stakeholders, the NGOs as well as the Government.

Now in her second year at the Sri Jayawardanapura University reading Mass Communication, Sinhala and Music for her Bachelor’s, Hansi also serves as an MP in the Youth Parliament representing the disabled community.

“In the primary section, especially Grade I and II, much of the class work was carried out in a visual medium. Even the alphabet was taught with the use of visuals,” Hansi digs into her recollection storage.

Fortunately for Hansi, her teacher was sensitive to her needs and requirements. The teacher would oftentimes approach the visually impaired, yet receptive, student to spell out her lessons. Most often she would keep the pupil at close range to the table. She was never to overlook her. Whenever the teacher held out a visual object to the batch, she would let Hansi feel the same. Her time at Grade I and II was spent thus, mostly tethered to touching and feeling.

Hansi meets her next challenge with the Scholarship Examination. None of her class teachers had an idea about her capacity. Unbeknownst to them, however, Hansi spent one hour in the Special Unit every day to learn the Braille alphabet. That clothed her with adequate confidence to get along with her peers. Unfortunately, she would not get an opportunity to sit for the Scholarship Exam.

“I do not consider it a misfortune though. It was a good opportunity for me to brace myself for the future. I was determined,” an encouraged Hansi recalls.

The upper school posed a serious challenge to Hansi. GCE Ordinary Level education means mastering 12 subjects. The mastery of the 12 subjects should be proved in 12 question papers. Each question paper was three hours! But the school was sensitive to her requirement this time. She was delegated to an individual teacher. The teacher would read out all the questions on the paper. She would listen to them and respond in Braille. She made it a point never to be ranked last in the class. She was always ranked between the fifth and the 10th. Finally, she clutched at the opportunity to sit for her first crucial examination, GCE Ordinary Level, at the Rathmalana School for the Deaf and Blind.

“I must especially mention my invigilator and her team. They were quite helpful. They read out all the questions. Someone asked me how I remembered all the material necessary for answering. It was a simple technique that I followed,” Hansi notes.

In her psychology studies, Hansi has read the benefits of keeping some stimulant in possession. The stimulant comes in handy when you feel down or tired. She would take her favourite perfume to the exam hall and breathe in its scent whenever she feels tired. She passed the exam with four credits and four simple passes.

“I chose Arts at the same school for Advanced Level. My teachers were now aware that I would somehow ace the examination and enter the university,” Hansi remembers.

Smooth roads never make perfect drivers. It was so for Hansi. Her Mass Communication teacher paved the rough terrain for her to become a perfect driver in life. You only need to pass the exam and you can enter the university, her teacher would often tell her. That was not encouraging, Hansi emphasises today. It was underestimating a student. That only breaks your spirits. The teacher passed that statement as disability is considered at the university entrance.

“I was determined to pass the exam with 3As. But I did not want to do it as an attack on my teacher. My results are only 2As and one C, but I am thankful to that very teacher who broke my spirits. If not for her, I would not have come this far.”

At the university, Hansi comes across many friends. She gets along with them as a normal student because she has experience of growing up as a normal kid under the normal circumstances. Such experience made her an extraordinary character among her peers.

“Ask anyone of my batch about me. You will hardly find anyone who doesn’t know me. I am known not because of my disability, but because of my social work,” Hansi notes with confidence.

Any visually impaired pupil or a student will have to face discrimination and other challenges when they get along with the peers. This is why they approach the institutes allocated to that particular education need. But Hansi thinks otherwise. In her viewpoint, it is better to let the visually impaired pupils get along with the pupils without disabilities at the mainstream schools. That makes the platform for the pupils without disabilities to familiarise and change their attitudes towards their peers with disabilities.

“Then they come to realise that the disability has nothing to do with the mental capacity. Just because you cannot see, hear or move around, it does not mean that you are mentally disabled. You can contribute towards the social development just like the others with all the necessary facilities provided,” Hansi explains.

The government, as a major stakeholder, has offered a considerable contribution on ease of access for the disabled, Hansi notes. But the situation has more room to improve with better facilities.

“For instance, most websites are not blind-friendly. This affects me as I need internet information to engage in debates. The government can work on advanced software methodologies to make the Internet blind-friendly.”


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