A visually impaired student's inspiring journey to IIM-A
Amit Jain is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) 2005 batch. Amit was one of the first visually impaired students to make it to the IIMs. Here he talks about his preparation and strategies with all the CAT aspirants.
Can you please give us a brief introduction about your family and education?
I belong to a middle class family and my vision problem was discovered very early when I was just one month old. I never went to a special school and my parents ensured that I should get into a normal school and study with sighted children, so that I would face the challenges like other students.
After completing my 12th, I went to NIVH (National Institute for Visually Handicapped) for a three month training to understand Braille (system used by the visually handicapped to read and write). I had partial vision, still I wanted to learn Braille and so I went to NIVH, in Dehradun. Once I completed my graduation, I was preparing for civil services, but could not make it. Then I appeared for CAT (Common Admission Test) examination and was able to make it to IIM Ahmedabad.
Talking about my experience with normal education, and schooling, yes, there were certain challenges. In regular schools, you will always find there would be certain people who will be very supportive to you, some would be neutral and others would not be supportive at all. Overall, I would say the experience was quite cordial, especially with the teachers.
Even for the 10th or 12th board exams, they were pretty helpful. I have done my 10th from CBSE board, and they have a provision for visually impaired students, wherein for any particular diagram question, we are given the opportunity to pick another non diagram question.
I completed class 12th in ISCE board. The ISCE board did not have any such policy for visually disabled students, like the CBSE had. However, they were cooperative whenever any support was required. This was in 1997 when sensitivity towards the visually handicapped was not a mainstream topic.
'There are people who are completely blind, yet manage to challenge their limits each day'
As you mentioned, that you went to normal school and colleges, there must be situations, where you faced difficulties in coping up with other students in studies? How did you manage? I will give you my own example. When I was in 12th standard I had certain eye problems and the doctors advised me to discontinue studies. This was a very difficult time. But I was determined to study and had to cope with a lot of problems.
I had two things in mind: First, to do what is necessary and second, to gain the support of the society.
Back home, my sister helped by reading the text for me. In school, the teachers really helped in taking the notes, I was not allowed to write, hence someone would copy it for me. I was able to manage my studies during the tough times and with the best wishes of my family members, friends and teachers, I was also able to score good marks in class 12 examination.How do you mentally prepare yourself for such challenges? I feel the environment around you makes a lot of difference. I am no exception; there are a lot of people who are struggling with their disability. There are people who are completely blind, yet manage to challenge their limits each day. If they can manage, then why can't I? If I do it now, then I can be an example to others, who may face similar situations in the future. Today, when I look at people who have passed with better marks, and taken the same course ahead of me, I feel enthusiastic and motivated to work hard. But if I lose hope, people who will follow me, will not have the courage to even take the plunge. The entire journey has been of ups and downs. Who is your greatest inspiration? A lot of people who have inspired me, but my maternal grandfather was my biggest inspiration. He had been through a lot of hardships and struggled a lot to complete his education. His courage and determination to do something concrete in his life has always been a source of inspiration for me. How do you manage other activities apart from studies? In our every day life, there are many challenges, like crossing the roads or walking in the night etc.
But I try to work around things my way, for e.g., while crossing the road I am not able to dodge quickly like others. So, I get along with others who are taking the same road and find my way. Somewhere down the line, I think my sixth sense has also played its role in helping me.
It is very rightly said that if you lose one of your senses, the others become sharper than ever.
Image: Blind men help each other cross a busy road in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
'I am the first visually challenged person at IIM-A'
IIM Ahmedabad has been a very interesting journey for me because IIMs have one of the toughest curriculums you can ever have in an MBA institute.
Initially, it was very difficult for me to cope especially in the first term and I had to face a lot of other challenges too. I was not able to manage since there was a lot of reading that had to be done and I was actually thinking of quitting. But the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I am the first visually challenged person to have made it to IIM Ahmedabad. If I leave today, then the admission committee may not take any disabled candidates in the future. So, I decided to stay back and try something different to overcome the challenges related to studies and other activities.
The administrative staff at the institute were very helpful; the faculty members ensured that I sat nearest to the black board enabling me to copy the notes better.
I was also given the privilege to approach any professor during their working hours if I did not understand something in class. The administration also ensured that I have better lighting conditions, so that while reading books I did not have to strain my eyes.
With the help of IIM-A PGP manager Shashi Nair, I also got in touch with an organisation called Blind People Association headed by Dr. Bhushan Punani. He used to send some readers in the post lunch hours to do the reading for me.
How did you manage the exams at IIM Ahmedabad? Were any special provisions made for you?
At the time of examinations, the administrative staff were very supportive; they used to give me papers with large fonts, so that I can read it easily. However, one thing I would always appreciate about them is that they never gave me privileges like extra time and they had good reasons for it too. They wanted me to compete normally with others as that is what I would have to do in the long run.
You have been in the corporate world for a few years now; do you think there needs to be better acceptance to differently abled people in the corporate scenario?
According to me, the Corporate India is ready to take differently abled people it's just that there is lack of sensitivity in the corporate world.
In fact, ICICI Prudential Life offered me the job before the normal placements. They arranged for everything that was required for me to carry out my work efficiently.
The moment corporate professionals are made aware that people with disabilities can do the same work like those without any the disabilities, they would be more ready to accept them. There are technologies which are developing and if the corporate personnel are aware about the technologies, the level of acceptance would definitely rise. Also with the current trend of inclusion and diversity in work places, I think they will be much more willing to hire differently abled people.
You are accepted quite well in all the organisations, may be because you come from an institute like the IIM Ahmedabad. Do you think, the treatment would have differed had you studied at any another institute?
To some extent, yes, for the simple reason that being from IIMA, gives an impression that the person has been able to manage the 'rigour' of IIM-A. Had I come from any other institute, there would be questions like-- has the person really been that rigourous? Is the person capable of handling rigour? This is also exactly why I think, that the faculty members' decision of not giving me any additional time was right. Today, I can proudly declare that I competed with normal students and still could make through it.
On the other hand, I believe that if you can show the organisation what you are capable of, they would take you, no matter which institute you belonged to.
Do you support any initiatives or are you involved in any kind of activities which helps the visually challenged or people with other disabilities?
Yes, I volunteer for Xaviers Resource Centre for visually challenged.
There were people, who wanted to do MBA, so I helped them out specially in preparing for mathematics. Since these students had studied in special schools, they had the choice to drop mathematics after class 7. I trained them for mathematics and also prepared them for the CAT exam. Fortunately, two of them got into Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and one of them got into Symbiosis Centre of Management and Human Resource Development.
When I joined IMS Learning Resources, one of the initiatives they were supporting was Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA). So I supported them and helped them find out how we could increase diversity in law schools.
I worked with Mr. Shamnad Basheer of NUJS Kolkata, who thought about this and selected 50 candidates including five visually challenged candidates from Hyderabad. They were involved with coaching those five students for CLAT -- Common Law Admission Test. All these five candidates were selected by various law schools.
I am also working with this organisation called Eyeway who run this radio program called 'Eyeway Roshni ka Karwan'. I got in touch with them just few days ago and we are now working on what we can do in terms of providing financial literacy for people with disability, especially with visual disability.
One of my dreams that I would like to achieve some day is to develop a website where a person with disability could come and share his/her career-related experiences. This may also help students to see what challenges people faced and how they can overcome it
Any advice you would like to give the young audiences, who are students?
I would not like to give it as an advice, but I would share my own experience, that if you like to do something, give it a full go. But at the same time, you need to understand your weaknesses and be aware of your strengths fully and then choose your career accordingly.
You should explore the whole arena of available career options and then get into what you want to do. Also ensure that you are a contributor to the society and not a burden because the acceptance in the former is higher and also it raises your self esteem. Be confident and the environment around you will be positive. I think the surrounding environment becomes what you think about it. So, if you think positive, it will reflect on the environment and if you think negative, the environment automatically becomes negative around you.
Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?
To be truthful, I have not planned anything for 10 years. I just want to start something of my own which can help the society. I truly believe in the words that 'we should leave behind a society and environment which is better than the one we inherited.'
Image: Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad