Is the academic triumph of disabled students not sexy enough for the media?

By Shruti Pushkarna

CBSE Class XII results were declared earlier this week. As always news reports flowed in, citing the best performing schools and students across the country. For students and teachers who have worked hard through the year, this is their moment of glory. Top scorers hog the media limelight, sharing their tall tales of rigorous preparations.

Among the list of achievers were also Dhruv from Jalandhar who topped his district with 98.2% as well as triplets from Mangaluru, Jeevan, Jayesh and Jitesh who each scored over 90%. What sets the four of them apart from their peers is their lack of eye sight. Well only physically. Not one of them has allowed their blindness to become their defining trait. Actually what distinguishes these visually impaired students from the school-going herd, is their grit to succeed and sheer love for education.

Incidentally this is not the first time when students with disabilities have aced the result charts. Last year, Lavannya Balakrishnan and Anushka Panda topped in the special needs category. Lavannya who is hearing impaired and Anushka who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, both scored over 97% in their CBSE XII and X boards respectively.

But where is the media coverage for these disabled achievers? The few reports that have surfaced are from (usual suspects) journalists or media groups known for periodic soft coverage of causes like ‘disability’.

Why haven’t these stories been widely reported by dailies and (sonorous) news channels? Possibly because their accounts are not ‘sexy’ enough by prevalent journalistic standards.

Students with disabilities aren’t served anything on a silver platter. To keep up with the able-bodied, they have to work harder, putting in extra hours, often taking assistance from their families and teachers. This of course if they garner support from their community and academia in the first place. Because many of them are written off even before their lives begin.

These stories call for celebration and recognition. They may not meet the sensational criteria set by 24×7 news television, but these are powerful stories to be told. Stories that will have a definite impact on millions of disabled Indians. On children who have been confined in their homes by parents who only see them as liabilities. On children who have never seen the interiors of a classroom. On adults who still have a chance at independent living.

Dhruv wants to become a software developer. And the Mangaluru triplets are preparing to become Chartered Accountants. Despite being visually impaired by birth, they are all well-verse with technology and use it to their advantage in keeping up with studies.

Not only the 15 per cent disabled population, but the entire civil society stands to benefit from these transformational narratives. There is an invisible disability that cripples us all, it’s an ‘attitudinal bias’.

The quality of education offered to persons with disabilities is at best mediocre. This stems from the same belief system that the disabled won’t put it to practical use, that they would continue being dependent on another.

But when we hear or see a student battling against all odds with a goal in sight, our curiosities are titillated.

Stories of Jayesh, Dhruv or Anushka have the potential to alter mindsets of educationists, policy makers, technology developers and the average Indian. Our society suffers at the hands of ignorance. New age media has the wherewithal to spread awareness and widen the scope of our imagination.

Isn’t it only fair that people learn about the persistence and potential of persons with disabilities?

Is it so hard to replace the endless inane coverage of the Bachchans or the horse-trading politicians, with factual insights that can promote a conducive environment for everyone?