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Mohammed Asif Iqbal

Rough ride on my journey to get educated
By Mohammed Asif Iqbal

“No, we can’t teach you”. “Sorry, we are not equipped to teach a blind student”. “It would be major embarrassment for our institute if you do not complete the course”. “We sympathize with you but why don’t you consider doing this course from a private institute”.

This is what I was told by the many educational institutes I approached to realize my dream of pursuing formal educating.

I was born in Bihar. I could never see perfectly. I had 50% eyesight and attended a school in Bhagalpur, Bihar. Teachers and the school principal never made any extra effort to make me understand what was being taught. They perceived me as the dimmest boy in the class and didn’t bother investing time in me. I lost interest in studies and started believing that formal education was not meant for me. As a result, I failed in Class II and Class IV examinations.

I was very fortunate that just then my Uncle and my Aunt, who is also my god Mother, visited India from United States. They suggested to my father that I migrate to the United States for my education and treatment. I reached United States and initially had to struggle a lot but with my god mom’s encouraging words and my self-confidence I managed to complete high school with 89% marks. I even got admission in a college but for some personal reasons could not complete it. Due to a family problem I had to come back to India after staying in the United States for 10 years.

I was very apprehensive about pursuing further education in India but my father convinced me otherwise. I wanted to take Commerce stream. My relatives, friends and my father’s friend who was a professor thought that I could not pursue commerce because of my visual impairment. They thought that I was making a big mistake and choosing a wrong stream. However, I was determined to prove them wrong and applied for admission. I got an interview call from Vice Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. During the interview the Vice Principal asked “Asif, we sympathize with you but why don’t you do this course from some other college?” His words infuriated me and I retorted, “Sir, I am not seeking lower standards of education, I am not seeking concessions, all I seek is fair opportunity to prove my worth.”

The Vice Principal was convinced and I got admission. I used a Talking Note Taker to jot down lecture notes and I used a spreadsheet with the help of talking software installed on my laptop to deal with accounts related subjects. Assistive IT tools and my self-confidence enabled me to be the first visually impaired person to graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta in Commerce stream.

I did not want to quit studying and started dreaming of pursuing an MBA. Like many MBA aspirants I sought guidance from coaching institutes. I approached a few but they all declined due to my blindness. After great difficulty I managed to find an institute which was willing to take me. Now the next battle was to find study materials in an accessible format such as a softcopy, which I could read with the help of my talking software. I approached the head of the coaching institute for softcopy of the learning material but he declined my request on the grounds that it amounted to copyright violation. I started to surf the net and came across a wonderful CD-ROM containing study material for MBA entrance exams. I appeared for CAT, XAT and SCMHRD. I could not clear CAT and XAT but managed to clear SCMHRD.

At SCMHRD the Director, Prof. Pillai gave me all support and guidance so that I could complete my course in a conducive environment. I was given softcopy of all course material on my laptop and was allowed to take exams under the supervision of the appointed college authority. Determination and hard work enabled me to become the first visually impaired person to be awarded PGDM certificate from SCMHRD.

While at SCMHRD I also got an opportunity to visit the President of India to discuss the possibility of developing talking software in India, which would provide a cost affective alternate to millions of visually impaired citizens of India. I also was invited to deliver a presentation at InfoCom 2004 organized by NASSCOM and Business World group.

My mission is to excel in whatever I do and would like to tell the world that with will and perseverance you can take up any challenge.

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