Twenty-seven-year old Samuel Mani runs a small enterprise Neutron Computers in Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi. The company was launched four years ago and it designs software, develops websites and offers hardware solutions. In his own words, he aims to provide "anything and everything related to computers".
Mr Mani is a graduate in commerce and also holds a degree in software engineering. He also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He has not let his disability get in the way of his passion and zest for life. Naveen Kaul caught up with Mani to talk about his experiences.
You studied in a special school, before transferring to a mainstream school. What were your experiences there?
The experiences were very good. The atmosphere was congenial and was tailored to suit the needs of the disabled students. At special school, I had speech therapy sessions, physiotherapy sessions, occupational therapy sessions, etc, that helped me a lot.
After your transfer to the mainstream school, did you face any difficulties? Was the school equipped to cater to your needs?
I joined a normal school in Standard XI. For two years I was in a normal school. Most of my first year was spent in getting used to the environment; the second year was spent in studying. There were difficulties of accessibility. Besides that, there was lack of sensitivity by people. In fact, the attitude problem was on all sides: on the part of my teachers and peer group but on my part also. My expectations were very high as I was fresh out of a protected environment and expected people to be sensitive to my needs.
Were there other disabled students at the mainstream school? What about their needs, for example, access, trained teachers, assistive devices, etc?
When I joined St Mary's school there were no disabled students at that time. But fortunately for me, one of my seniors, Komal Gupta, had already opened the door. He was also disabled. In a literal sense the teachers were not trained and sensitised but they were trained teachers.
What was the behaviour of your peer group towards you in the school?
It was a blend of both good and bad. Some were helpful and some not. Some people were friendly and were willing to make friends, while others were not.
Did you find any significant differences in the educational system as you moved to higher education?
Higher education system was less accessible. I had to study at home and appear for the examinations. There was no help from any quarter. I wanted to undergo a Chartered Accountancy course but the Chartered Accounts Institute didn't allow me to do that as there was no provision for a scribe. This was important for me, as I needed someone to write for me. I faced a similar difficulty when I intended to appear for Union Public Service Examination (UPSE). In a sense, the higher education system was more limiting.
You have experienced both integrated and inclusive education in India. Which one do you favour and why?
Although inclusive education is the ideal, integrated education will also
do in India. It is better to have integrated education than no education
Let us admit the fact that India is a vast country and has a huge disabled population. On top of this, it is not a rich country. Only half of our population is educated. In such a scenario, to begin with we can have integrated education and then slowly we can move towards inclusive education. Integrated education is far from the ideal but it is at least a step in the right direction.
Which of your two educational experiences would you say equipped you better for life and work?
Both helped me to face challenges in life. But I would say that exposure at normal school was wider than at special school. It prepared me for what life would be like after school. The special school provided a very protective environment but did not prepare me for "normal" life. There were ample good and bad experiences at the normal school.
What is the driving force that keeps you moving and fighting against all the odds of life?
It is the necessity that keeps me moving ahead in life. As one has to live in this world, one has to devise ways and means to live. As I had to move on in life, I tried to get a job of my choice but it was not possible. So I had to start my own enterprise. I wanted to feel as though I was doing something. I loved my education and wanted to use what I had learnt in my profession.
Are you satisfied with what you are doing today?
To some extent, I would say yes, but not fully. I wasn't able to study the courses of my choice like chartered accountancy. I was also not able to take UPSC examination but at least I am using my education in a productive manner. At the end of the day, whatever I have done or have not done, it has been by means of my education. I am happy.
What would you count as the major influences in your life?
It is the almighty God that has been a major influence in my life. Besides Him, my parents have influenced me a lot. I remember my mother going to different schools and asking for my admission. I remember her crying as admission was rejected outright. I can't forget how she prayed to God seeking blessing from Him for my admission. I remember her praying: "Oh God, Please let my son have some education."
What message would you like to give to disabled students?
When I was in Standard X, I used to tell my teacher that we don't have disabled role models. But now I have realised that we don't need role models. If you try to live life like another person then you end up being a copy. The best thing you can do is to try to live your life the way you want, not the way others think it should be. What life I have got, what little I have done, I have done without role models. I had no need of role models.
Do you have any suggestions regarding the education of disabled people?
It was hard for me to find a job. So, I had to start a business. I feel that general education should be goal-oriented. Education should help create jobs. There is, though, a positive change in society. Today I see disabled children going to Standard I and II at St Mary's school. They have the chance for a normal education. But even today getting a job after completing education is a big challenge. As I missed opportunities in education, I had to build my own business. It is still a struggle.