Girl beats blindness in CBSE feat

A Calcutta girl born without vision has passed the CBSE Class XII examination in arts with an aggregate of 85.4 per cent in her first attempt at writing a board test with assistive technology.

By Jhinuk Mazumdar
  • Published 27.05.18
Rashmi Maruvada

Kalikapur: A Calcutta girl born without vision has passed the CBSE Class XII examination in arts with an aggregate of 85.4 per cent in her first attempt at writing a board test with assistive technology.

Rashmi Maruvada, 18, had studied till Class X at Patha Bhavan using Braille, a universal system for the blind in which letters and numbers are printed as raised dots so that these can be read by touching them.

For term and annual examinations, her mother would arrange a writer to take down what she dictated. "In class tests, she would answer in Braille. A person from the Society for the Visually Handicapped transcribed the answer scripts. Her class work wasn't evaluated," recounted mother Annapurna.

At Apeejay School Park Street, Rashmi opted for humanities, but it was technology that opened up a whole new world to her. She started using a recorder as an alternative to taking notes and doing projects on a laptop using software that enabled her to read and convey what she wanted without depending on anyone.

According to Rashmi, the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reader program gave her freedom and confidence she hadn't experienced before. "Assistive technological devices have made me more independent in writing exams and completing assignments," she said.

The teenager's Class XII scores reflect her confidence: 90 in English, 88 in human rights and gender studies, 86 in psychology and sociology and 77 in legal studies.

"Be it searching the Internet for learning resources or reading documents sent by teachers or friends, I now use JAWS. I need help only in downloading pictures for projects because the screen reader does not read images. I explain the kind of image I need to my mother and she searches for them. She describes what she finds and, based on my feedback, downloads the ones I needed," she said.

Rashmi was in her third day of school at Apeejay when she realised that one of her teachers was speaking discernibly slow. She gently stopped the teacher to say: "I can keep pace with the lecture. Please do not go slow for me."

When she does miss making a mental note of something being taught in the classroom, the recorder ensures that she gets a second chance to hear it.

"The CBSE system has provisions that enabled us to get permission for Rashmi to use a computer to write the Class XII exam. She is a hugely determined girl and I have seen her refusing help to walk up to the stage during concerts in school," said Reeta Chatterjee, the principal of Apeejay School Park Street.

Rashmi had undergone an unsuccessful cornea transplant when she was just a year old. Since then, the only thing Annapurna has wanted for her daughter is a normal life without her lack of sight coming in the way.

Annapurna, a special educator, decided early that her daughter would go to a "mainstream" school rather than a special institute. "She did not want a secluded or protected life for me and insisted that I go to a mainstream school and be just like anyone else my age," Rashmi said. "When I am out with my friends, they do not hold me by my hand. They only guide me, if needed. I am planning to study outside Calcutta and am preparing myself for that."

In 2010, Rashmi won an award from the National Innovation Foundation-India for her concept of a computerised tricycle that can drive itself to a pre-selected location.

Academics is not her only focus, though. Rashmi goes trekking, rafting and kayaking. She has also done a course in mountaineering. "I enjoy doing something outside my comfort zone that is also a new experience. It exposes me to life's challenges and makes me feel no less than the other person," she said.