Published: 03rd November 2020
After differently-abled student protests lack of toilets at IGNOU Kochi, Social Justice Department seeks report on accessibility
Recently, Meera U Menon, a disabled student at IGNOU had complained saying that the disabled-friendly toilet was kept locked
The Kerala Social Justice Department's Secretary Biju Prabhakar has sought a report on the accessibility of disabled-friendly toilets at the Indira Gandhi National Open University's Kochi Regional Centre. This direction followed a complaint by Meera U Menon, a PG Diploma student in Women and Gender Studies, in the university who alleged that she wasn't able to access a disabled-friendly toilet at the centre on the day of her examination October 16. Meera suffers from a disability called Spina bifida that affects her spinal cord, owing to which she has problems with bladder control.
"I was to write the examination on the second floor of the building. Right before writing the exam, I entered the toilet on that floor, which only had Indian closet. It is difficult for someone like me to use it and I ended up wetting myself," says Meera, who adds that she had to write the exam that way, much to her embarrassment. "Later, I found out that they had a disabled-friendly toilet, which was locked. When I asked the staff there, he told me that he had no idea where the key was," she says. Following her torrid experience, Meera had written multiple emails to the university and the Social Justice Department, highlighting the issue.
In the initial response to Meera, the IGNOU Kochi Regional Director Dr J Dorothy said that the former did not mention that she required assistance and that the Kochi centre is indeed disabled-friendly. "No representation from you, as a learner, was received for special assistance and additional facilities to write the examination, implying the preference to write with other examinees. The social inclusiveness of Regional Centre, Cochin is evident from allowing the differently-abled learner to write with other examinees as per her preference in this case," reads the email.
However, Meera shared a sample examination application form with EdexLive, where students were only sought if they were a Person with Disability (PwD). "The form did not seek further details. It only sought if I required assistance in writing my exam, which I did not," she says. IGNOU, however, still maintains that the institute is disabled-friendly. The recent email sent by Dorothy to Meera on November 3 says that the disabled-friendly toilet was kept closed, keeping the COVID situation in mind. "Keeping in mind the COVID-19 situation – as a precautionary measure, movement of learners/visitors to all the spaces including the convenience places used by staff has been restricted in the old block. Any infection to an employee of the Regional Centre, Cochin would affect the entire examination conduct and related back-office process and hence bound to take the precaution for restricted movement in the old block," reads the email. The old block was where the exam was held.