‘Bienvenido a UNAM’ – Alexandra Leigh: Monday 16th January

Monday began with our first visit to the host university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (also known as UNAM). The short drive over confirmed my first impressions of the scale of Mexico City: big city, big mountains, big sky. Noticeable among the traffic were a number of pink and white taxis; we later learnt that 300 of these are funded by INDEPEDI, the government department dedicated to improving life for people with disabilities in Mexico. Besides being specially adapted for wheelchair users, these drivers also had a greater awareness of disabilities in general. This fact became more significant as we learnt that one of the UNAM students, Mariana, had in the past been refused access to public transport when she had her guide dog with her.

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After an enthusiastic welcome from the directors of the university, we were given a tour of the main campus, Ciudad Universitaria. An enormous site – its name translates as University City – the campus is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status awarded in June 2007. Although this status recognises the historical and cultural significance of the university campus, it became immediately apparent that this was a barrier for disabled students. As a World Heritage Site, nothing about the campus can be altered – including providing permanent access for students with mobility issues.

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Whilst on the tour, we waited 45 minutes whilst participants using wheelchairs took an alternative route around what was a single, short flight of stairs for able-bodied students. Talking to the students from UNAM, we learnt that this was a common problem with many of the buildings in Ciudad Universitaria. Lectures were held in the tower blocks dotted around the campus, very few of which had lift access. While temporary ramps could be installed for external steps around campus – which would be in keeping with UNESCO’s rules – there is not enough space within the buildings to add these. Naturally, as an obstacle to inclusion this is not limited to Mexico, but highlights the conflict between preservation of culture and accessibility at many historic sites worldwide.

During the tour, we also learned about the different technologies currently available to students. Within the library – the ground floor of which is accessible – a suite of facilities is available to help students with disabilities. For example, the librarians informed us that twelve students with visual impairments currently make use of these technologies. The staff were evidently dedicated to improving access to learning materials, and proud of the close relations they had with the students using these services. However, it will be interesting to see whether this level of engagement can be sustained. With the creation of UNAPDI this year – UNAM’s new department for the inclusion of disabled students – there will likely be an increase in the number of disabled students at UNAM, and therefore accessing these services.

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Further adaptive technology was available in the Centro de Orientacion Educativa, (Centre for Educational Orientation). The computer stations for student guidance were accessible to students with a variety of disabilities. Text and background colours could be changed; text could be enlarged; pictures removed; and audio description options were available. However, most exciting was a form of motion capture technology, which enabled navigation of menus and web-surfing for students with motor disabilities. Controlled by facial expression and slight movements of the eyes and head, it allowed these students to browse the information available with no need for assistance. Developed by UNAM itself, they hope to make it available across the university. Tools like this provide real opportunities for students’ independence, enabling the same level of access that non-disabled students enjoy.

Our tour of the campus also highlighted Mexico’s pride in its cultural heritage. Both the indigenous and colonial history was celebrated, as in the mural by Juan O’Gorman on the Central Library on campus. As such, the talk provided by the British Council – and their involvement in Mexico, generally – seemed at odds with such a fiercely independent culture, especially given the many inspirational Mexican-led initiatives we learnt of later in the week. However clearly, the British Council has played an important role in working in partnership to improve accessibility in Mexico.

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On the whole, our first day in Mexico City provoked an interesting mix of reflections. It encouraged an awareness of how some policies – in this case designed to protect heritage – can be a barrier to those with physical disabilities. The variety of technological measures UNAM students could use to access content on a par with their peers was inspiring, and something which could be more widely implemented in the UK. Finally, my experiences caused me to questioned the role of British organisations, in a country which is clearly dedicated to improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

 

Fundación Mandala – Owen Keating: Tuesday 17th January

Following much needed rest in our lovely hotel, we woke up on Tuesday morning ready to engage with our international peers and Fundación Mandala – a foundation that supports the transition and reintegration of people with motor dysfunction. But, first came breakfast! We started off the day with a wonderfully diverse buffet that had varieties ranging from traditional European to local Mexican.

After breakfast we travelled, alongside our new German friends, to the UNAM science museum in a cozy little minibus. Once there, we had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by the founder of Fundación Mandala. The founder, Alexa Castillo Najera Zaliv, is an inspiring woman who had suffered a fall over a decade ago that led to a complete spinal chord injury. Due to that unfortunate experience, Alexa developed a deep motivation to help people with disabilities – to ensure they are well informed, that they do not limit themselves and are able to realise their full potential. Alexa and her colleagues instigated conversations that covered all aspects of a disabled person’s life. We learned a great deal from her and her foundation.

The session explored issues around exclusion, segregation, inclusion, affirmative action in the disabled student experience. We worked in global teams with participants from India, Mexico, Germany and Brazil to explore both our own experiences and that of other people in global contexts

Fundación Mandala’s morning workshop was also a great opportunity for us to further get to know our new international friends, as well as ourselves and peers from our home institutions. We discussed our own personal experiences and were inspired to find creative solutions to the complex and unique issues caused by the interaction of our limitations and local environment. It was a truly touching experience that we are all very grateful to the Mandala foundation for.

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Thanks to our hearing impaired peer from Mexico we also learned some sign language. We learned to sign a thank-you and how to express applause. I was surprised to find that sign language differs per country, similarly to other languages. It seems obvious in hindsight but I suppose linguistics was never my speciality!

Leaving the classroom we realized how warm it had become. We had left the frost and sharp chill behind in England and greatly enjoyed socializing in the Mexican sun. For lunch, we headed to the central area and stopped at a military parade ground named Campo Marte. What was striking about our lunch spot was the 50m by 28m flag that swayed above it. We knew the Mexican people were patriotic, but the sight of this truly massive flag was still stunning. Lunch itself was delicious, with the highlight of the three-course meal being, just about, the most delicious cheesecake any of us had ever tasted!

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After lunch, we continued our drive towards the city centre, driving down Paseo de la Reforma for the first time. This magnificent avenue was adorned by beautiful monuments, including the Angel of Independence – a gold guilded angel atop a tall column in the middle of the avenue. From Paseo de la Reforma we boarded the ‘Turibus Lucha’, and enjoyed a guided tour of parts of the city with the tour guide himself being a ‘Luchador’ – a Mexican wrestler (mask and all). We were even given our own masks to truly get into the spirit.

Our destination was Arena Mexico – a 17,000 seat arena where we watched our first Lucha Libre event. Mexico’s take on American Professional Wrestling is a hugely entertaining and flamboyant event. I am not sure I have ever laughed so much in such a small space of time as I did towards the end of the show whilst watching the likes of El Tigre and La Mascara ‘wrestle’. After our long yet hugely enjoyable day we returned to our hotel to rest and process what we had taken away from our talks with Mandela foun
dation whilst enjoying each others’ company over our evening meal.

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‘Hole Mole (Sauce)’ Serena Waithe: Wednesday 18th January

Olympic Stadium

It was midway through the week and after a late night at the Mexican Wrestling, a lot of us were feeling tired in the morning. The bus journey was more subdued than usual and most of us slept on the short journey to the University Olympic Stadium.

However, once we arrived, we were instantly perked up by the amazing view of the stadium. I’m not particularly interested in watching sports and the idea of looking around a stadium didn’t appeal to me at first but the intricate architecture immediately set the stadium apart from the usual sports arena.stad

The stadium was built in 1952 and was the work of three top Mexican architects: Augusto Perez, Raul Salinas and Jorge Bravo Moro. It has had several uses since its inception including a venue for American Football and the 1968 Olympic Games. As with many buildings in Mexico City, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is currently the home of the much lauded soccer team, The Pumas. One thing that I have learnt about Mexico City is their love for the Pumas! The Sunday that we arrived, the Pumas had won a game and celebrations of the win were apparent throughout the week. We were fortunate enough to meet the Puma team when we visited, who were nice enough to take a photo with us.

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Despite the extremely hot weather, our group were in high spirits, especially our resident soccer fanatics, Jay and Owen.

On the east side of the stadium is a huge mural designed by Diego Rivera. Murals are a salient feature of Mexican art and every part of its design tells a story. The stones used to create the mural were painstakingly chosen from areas around the city to create the tableau.

The mural shows the UNAM emblem as well as mascots, the condor and the eagle. Underneath this is a family; a mother and father with a child cradling a dove. This section of the mural is supposed to represent the coming together of the pre- and post- Hispanic history of Mexico. I learnt from Adrianna (the UNAM representative who helped organise the week) that the idea of marrying the old and new was important in Mexican culture. They feel that all aspects of their history have helped make Mexico a unique country.

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One of my favourite aspects of Mexico City has been there numerous murals and I was constantly in awe of those impressive scenes dotted throughout the city.

Light Museum

We then took a short bus trip to the Museo de la Luz (Museum of Light). Mexico City has the second most number of museums (after London) and this is one of its more niche ones. Light is an important part of Mexico’s Aztec heritage and the museum is a great reflection of this.7

 

The museum is located in the former San Illdenfonso College and the architecture is visibly Classic Spanish. The building featured more murals, this time with a Catholic overtone.

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Unfortunately, the excitement of the museum visit was interrupted by the accessibility problem. There were no ramps or lifts and this proved a problem for members of our group that were in wheelchairs. I learnt from the UNAM students that this was a major problem in many of the buildings in Mexico City due to their protected status.

Due to time restraints, we were unable to see all of the museum but we visited two exhibitions, one focusing on light as a heat source and the other on light as an Aztec folklore.

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What I loved about the exhibit was the aforementioned marrying of old and new. The museum took Aztec history and presented it in modern, technologically advanced exhibits.

 

Lunch

We had lunch in a restaurant in the downtown area of Mexico City. It was set in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by boutiques. We had a traditional Mexican meal including mole. It is extremely difficult to describe mole as it is incomparable to any other dish. It is a complex sauce made up of over 40 ingredients including chocolate. It gives the sauce a rich and sweet taste with a savoury, spicy undertone.

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Inclusion-Disability

We returned to the Light Museum after a satisfying lunch for an evening session on inclusion in disability. This session was presented by Michael, who was visually impaired. The session focused on interaction as the key to achieving inclusion for those with disabilities. He believed that social processes were based around stigma and that barriers could only be broken down by truly interacting on equal ground. This was one of my favourite sessions of the week. It really made me analyse the way in which I interact and react to people in my daily life. Having a disability can make one quite insular which further propagates separation. Apart from the presentation, we took part in two activities. One involved throwing a ball of string around the group and stating our favourite meals. The aim of this activity was to physically (with the entwining of the string) and verbally show how we are all connected to each other. It was a really inspiring moment for many of us and something that resonated through the group throughout the week.

The second activity referred back to the theme of the day; light. We each held a lit candle and reflected on our paths and future relating to our disability. Sharing our disabilities in a safe and welcoming environment felt liberating.

The trip back to the hotel was tiresome as we encountered a lot of traffic. By this point in the week, our group from King’s had become a family. This meant that we had become very open and at ease with each other. Despite the long journey back, we joked around and were already dreading our separation at the end of the week.

As I collapsed into bed after a long but rewarding day, I reflected all that I had learnt about myself so far on the trip. I hadn’t expected to be so introspective but it was a welcome and much needed change.

Jamie Nicholas: Thursday 19th January

On Thursday we were up bright and early as usual, with our earliest departure of the week. After breakfast we went to the National Auditorium located on Reforma Avenue- one of the most famous and longest avenues in Mexico City designed by Ferdinand von Rosenzweig. From there we had a guided tour of the most important downtown places on the Turibus Centro Historico, going past historical monuments such as the Independence monument also known as the Angel of Independence a key public monument that commemorates the beginning of Mexico Independence where today the 42m tower becomes a distinctive element in Mexico City and also an area of celebration when national sports team win, they parade around the monument. We also passed key sites of Palacio de Bellas Artes, – a significant Aztec find that is a sacrificial altar and also a statue of Christopher Columbus due to him being the first European to conquer Latin America and it was inaugurated in 1877. The tour was made even better due to the temperature being above 25 degrees, so we got time to squeeze in some sunbathing but departed the bus at the National museum of Anthropology. We then were giving a guided tour of the national museum of Mexico with it being the largest and biggest. The museum was a great experience as its collection includes, giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization, treasures recovered from the Mayan Civilization and ethnographical displays of contemporary rural Mexican life. The provision for access for disabled people was interesting at the Museum, in one section visitors were able to touch ancient Aztec sculptures which was particularly good for visually impaired members of the group. It enabled them to access the experience. Most of the museum was also wheelchair friendly with the majority of spaces on the same level. This meant that members of the group using a wheelchair could access the various exhibition spaces. This is something that gallery and museum spaces in the UK could learn from. It was a very interesting museum outside my particular interests but certainly intrigued me whereby outside we got some time to look around a small market and try crickets- which was an experience, they tasted very salty but are unfortunately not my cup of tea but also original Mexican street food which was incredible. Lunch was held at Chapultec Lake, one of the most beautiful restaurants in this area. We had 4 courses which were soup- like every day, vegetable tacos, fish and then a fruit desert. It was a very posh restaurant made even better by an amazing view over the lake. Our day was done after our lunch which was our earliest finish of the week but still 8pm. From there groups departed for the hotel and it was free time.

Overall, I had an amazing experience attending the ‘Dialogues on Disability’. It was an extremely inspirational week which I won’t forget for the rest of my life. I met some amazing people who have motivated me to do better in everyday life and also some great lifelong friends from around the globe. I was extremely inspired by the connectivity of the group, from the moment we met we all seemed to click and bond together and never looked back. I learnt a lot from the trip but in particular took away that connectivity and sensitivity are key to implement change with such a diverse group of young individuals all coming together in Mexico to try and increase inclusion for disabled students in higher education. It will benefit me as it made me take a different outlook on my life and has given me confidence to actively promote and circulate dialogues on disability so that in the future, the initiative only moves forwards and grows whereby I can be a part of this growth and try to implement change.

 

Rhys Thorne: Saturday 21st January 2017

Our week in Mexico City for the ‘Dialogues on Disability’ conference reached its end today, but not before we got to indulge ourselves in some traditional Mexican cuisine and explore the markets of the city for one final time.  Mexico City is a place of such diverse history, so why not begin our day at La Habana Café, where Fidel Castro was said to have begun planning the Cuban revolution alongside Che Guevara.  I opted for the chilaquiles rojos (a traditional Mexican dish consisting of crispy tortillas or nachos bathed in red salsa and topped with beef, refried beans and some fried eggs).  Once we had convinced ourselves to move, it was time to burn off the breakfast calories at ‘la Ciudadela, Mercado de artesanias’, the first of its kind having been established in 1968 for the Olympic games, it is one of the largest and most popular craft markets in Mexico City, selling traditional clothing and handmade items from all different regions in Mexico.  We had the chance to spend our pesos in this vibrant labyrinth of colour, where I bought some colourful tablecloths to lighten up my drab bedroom, and also a typical shirt from Oaxaca so I could bring some Mexican style back to the streets of London.  Once we had wandered around each and every stall and bought every Mexican souvenir possible, it was time to head to the airport for our eleven hour flight back home.

Eleven hours is a long time to spend staring at clouds, but it did give me time to reflect on the truly inspiring week I had had.  I’ve always been slightly apprehensive meeting new people for the fear that they will notice the way I walk and immediately make assumptions about me based solely on my disability.  It was incredibly refreshing to realise that I was in the company of people who knew exactly how I felt as we began our journey together.  It was an invaluable opportunity to meet such a diverse group of people from all corners of the globe with a variety of disabilities both physical and mental.

A personal highlight during the week was the time I got to spend speaking to Aldo, a law student at UNAM who, like me, also has Cerebral Palsy.  We spoke about growing up with Cerebral Palsy and how we both had to fight for the right to study at our respective primary schools, in my case it was due to lack of funding for an assistant and for Aldo, his school simply believed that his Cerebral Palsy impacted on his ability to understand and perform well in his classes.  The fact that we were able to bond over our similar experiences is a demonstration of the success of the Dialogues on disability conference.  Although we may come from different backgrounds, with different cultures and live halfway across the world from one another, our disabilities do not divide us, they unite us.

What I learnt from this week was to embrace what makes me ‘different’ and I realised that my disability is unique to me.  It’s difficult to explain what being disabled means exactly as everyone copes with theirs in their own unique way.  I got to learn how people manage their disabilities in their daily life, and how we all deal with the challenges of life in a variety of different but successful ways that allow us to be our own person.  The main message I took from my week surrounded by such wonderful people was that our disabilities do not define us, they are simply a part of us and if you accept that, our disabilities can unite us.

I hope to continue working with the dialogues on disability initiative along with even more global institutions in the future.  The lives of disabled people, both physically and mentally is improving as the world is changing.  It is vital that we continue this dialogue and keep it at the forefront of people’s minds so that one day in the near future everyone is able to be open about who they are without fear of stigma or discrimination and I am honoured to continue playing a small role in this change.

Connect to India Programme (September 2014) Day 10 – Louise Gates

10 days ago, we stepped out of Delhi airport and were greeted instantly by a few students and staff from Delhi University. “Welcome to Delhi!” they said, “we’re so glad you’re here!”, whilst handing us individually wrapped roses.

Never before has 10 days passed by so quickly. I think we all woke up this morning not quite believing how fast these last 10 days had gone. India was intense. For 10 days, we tried to match the city’s pace, rarely taking time off and packing as much into every single day as possible from exciting excursions to fascinating lectures and interesting…albeit heated…discussions. As hot and busy as the city is, it’s equally inspiring. As long as we were outside our guesthouse, we were seeing new things, visiting museums, touring historic places of interest, resting in gorgeous gardens and shopping at saree stores and markets, unlike anything you’d see back home. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, we love India! We love the people and against the backdrop of a cacophony of sounds, myriad of colours and at times with our olfactory senses working overtime, Delhi was indeed a treat for the senses. The clothing, architecture, weather, ceremonious greetings, the friendliness and how accommodating our wonderful hosts were and of course not forgetting…the FOOD will all make up our fond memories of our stay.

But even more than the Indian people and the Indian food, we’ll miss Delhi itself, a place with a personality all of its own. From now on, every other city we visit is going to seem ridiculous. Going downstairs to eat breakfast at 8am for the last time we were all sad to be leaving. The staff from Delhi University took us under their wings during our stay and we were all very sad to be saying goodbye to them. After lots of hugs and some last minute photos with our new friends we began boarding the coach for our short drive to Delhi airport. As we pulled away from the guesthouse we were frantically waving goodbye and caught our last glimpses of our home and family for the last 10 days, to which we’d all grown quite attached. And there’s the distinct possibility that, as Delhi grew distant in the view from our airplane windows as we flew home, we’ll become more attached. The experiences which we’ve spent 10 whirlwind days quickly processing, packing and cramming into our minds will be given time to unfold. The 10 days we spent here seemed to pass in 10 minutes, but the space which our time in Delhi eventually occupies in our memories will probably feel more like 10 months.

In the feedback session, one of our students quoted Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

For all of those who participated, conversations were had, initiatives were seen and spoken of, emotions expressed and ideas were exchanged. We have all returned with new eyes and extra colours and perhaps look different to those we know.

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Day 9 – Rosalia Myttas – Perris

Each university was asked to give a presentation to the rest of the group to reflect their thoughts and experiences on the trip and share what they had learn’t.
Both groups chose to sub-split into three groups to present ‘before’; ‘during’ and ‘after’ thoughts and expectations.

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There were two observations discussed by the Edinburgh students which really stood out for me. The first was that within the “landscape of disability”, certain disabilities, namely visual impairment, was a lot more prevalent than other disabilities. This likely to be because of the high levels of visual impairment within the country. When asked about the cause of this I was told that it is inextricably linked with people living in poverty: for example what starts off as a minor infection, without access to healthcare, may lead to significant loss of sight. This ‘landscape of disability’ made me consider the importance of equalizing awareness and assistance of all disabilities, rather than perhaps one, at the expense of another. It was wonderful to see that this has started to happen in the recognition and provisions made for ‘invisible disabilities’: mainly specific learning difficulties. Through recognising specific learning difficulties within the university and campaigning for legal recognition: the University of Delhi is paving the way for inclusive disability support.
The second significant point raised was a comparison between the UK and India. Edinburgh students noted that whilst in the UK there is substantial support for students during their education, that support is not always continued through to the “adult” work of employment. This stood in contrast to what we saw at the Blind Relief Association; where as well as schooling blind students from the age of 6, they also provided vocational training, such as candle and bag making, in order to equip visually impaired persons with skills which then enable them to go through to particular areas of employment. This invaluable bridge is an opportunity for people to break the disability-poverty cycle by allowing them to become economically independent and sustain themselves.

I was part of the ‘during’ group of the King’s presentation, and I discussed the themes of collectivism and inclusivity. This was sparked on one of the first days around the colleges, where we saw lots of student election posters everywhere, including rickshaws and bus stops. Coming from the UK, where student election posters and leaflets are kept strictly within the confines of campus, I asked Renu (one of the professors) whether the owners of the rickshaws get angry that their rickshaws are plastered with university student elections. In response, Renu corrected my use of the term ‘his’ and replaced it with ‘ours’ and explained how the concept of individual ownership and property rights is virtually non-existent. I found it touching to be in an environment where the focus is on the collective, rather than the individual, as I feel this is greatly lacking in the UK. This feeling was reinforced at the Blind Relief Association and Amar Jyoti inclusive school. At these places we would constantly see students, disabled or not, helping each other with a natural fluidity which showed how second-nature this was to them. This attitude of ‘it goes without saying’ that we will guide and help one another was deeply moving, and something that I certainly would like to take back to the UK.

 

After these presentations, thank-yous and our last meal at the guest house (much to our disappointment) we got dressed in formal Indian dress and boarded the bus to meet the President of India. We were ushered into a grand, what I would call ‘press’ room, where we sat down and the President then shortly arrived. After immaculate speeches from representatives of both Universities the President gave an encouraging speech about the nature of the programme. After photographs were taken, we were taken for tea and canapes.

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As if all that excitement was not enough, our next stop was an arts college of the University of Delhi, were we were treated to spectacular dance shows which then rapidly turned participatory; with the whole group up on their feet attempting to Indian dance.
After another wonderful meal in which we were able to interact more students from the University, we went back to our hostel and turned in for the night.

Upon reflection, (aside from some false alarms of Delhi Belly) I don’t think we could have asked for a better final day. It struck the perfect balance between looking back and going over what we have seen and learn’t; and meeting new people and trying new things.

Day 8 – Rahima Subhan

We are nearing the end of our ‘Connect to India’ journey, and what a wonderful experience we have had so far. On the 8th day of the program we begin with a series of talks and interactions held at the International Guest house’s Committee room until the late afternoon.

The first talk was given by Dr Renu Malaviya (Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Lady Irwin college, Delhi University) the talk’s topic was on “General Teachers and Special Education teachers: Perceptions and inter-linkages towards inclusive Education.” This talk gave me insights on what improvements are needed to better the learning experience for students with disabilities, from technological to social traditions that are currently inhibiting the student’s ease of study. For instance, Dr. Malaviya noted that in regards to technology, most universities do not have visual stimulants like power points which if implemented in all universities it will help to visually aide students whilst learning.

 

Moreover. Regarding the Indian traditions, there exists this general feeling of students not wanting to raise issues as they do not want to be seen as a burden and not be known to carry a disability due to the stigma it is linked with. Dr Malaviya mentioned that she had a student “…who preferred to waste fifteen minutes of her time reaching the lecture hall, rather then let everyone know about her disability”, she adds “…it is the teachers who need to make them understand that is their right” to tell others and to stop the silence acting as a barrier to their ease of learning.

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The second talk was by Dr. Ragesh Singh from Delhi Universities’ Brail Library. We learnt that their library services are very advanced and that this has been made possible due to the dedication given by the librarians whose mission is to aide students with the materials they need. For example, the library prints three Braille books a day and offers them to their students to keep, free of charge. When the librarians noted that not all books are made accessible, their solution was to make all books available online, be it in audio book or E-Text form, Lastly the library is open 24/7 so students can depend on the library for resources at their convenience.

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Following on from this, we had the pleasure of meeting some students with disabilities from Delhi University for a questions and answers session, the points raised were mainly focused on identifying the positive and negative experiences students have come across at a higher education level. I wanted to know if there existed a student (with disabilities) – led committee to represent the students’ voice to senior members of staff, as this role allows students to contribute to bettering their academic experience. A student noted that currently there is not such a committee but she empahasised that there s a great need for one. This student had previously fought to set up a panel similar to this idea, however it has not yet materialised.

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During Lunch we had another opportunity to socialise with the students at Delhi University and new friendships were formed.

Following on from Lunch, we had a very knowledgeable talk and interaction with Mary Baruha the Director for Action for Autism. We were privaliged to hear of her own personal account,s as she informed us that her son has autism. Her talk was entitled “Person with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Issues and Challenges in India at school, college and vocational levels. Mary discussed the challenges autistic children face in Indian schools and colleges; she noted suggestions for alternative teaching approaches in order to better autistic children’s education.

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After this, we were given free time, myself and all students at Kings came together to discuss what we will do for our presentation which will be presented the next day. The day ended with a walk along the busy Indian streets to the neighbouring Delhi University’s Guesthouse where we had a social dinner with the Dean and other senior staff from Delhi University.

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Rahima 6Finally I leave the best till last, the time again had arrived for us all to have the pleasure of eating a variety of delicious Indian cuisines and sweets before walking back to the International Guest House ready to retire for the night and await a new educationally and cultural enriched day to begin.

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Day 7 – William Bell Stewart

We woke up at 6.20am to be on the bus for 7.15am however we had all now become accustomed to “India Time” and therefore knew the bus would actually not leave until 7.45. The bus ride was 3 and a half hours. Rain and thunderstorms had been forecast however when we reached Agra and had to transfer to a smaller electric bus it was one of the hottest and driest days we’ve had on the trip.

Once we arrived at the Taj Mahal and walked through the red stone archway to bring the Taj Mahal into view it was clear that this building deserves its place at one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A tour guide then led us down towards the Taj Mahal informing us to some of its history and below I have summarised what we learnt:

The creator of the Taj Mahal was the Fifth Mughal Emperor: Shah Jahan. He was considered as one of the greatest Mughal leaders and his rule is often referred to as the Golden Age (1627 – 1666). Shah Jahan fell in love with Mumtaz Mahal a Muslim Persian princess. Shah Jahan had other wives however it was Mumtaz Mahal who was his true love and she travelled everywhere with him even on military campaigns. Sadly in 1631 when Mumtaz Mahal was giving birth to their 14th child she died due to complications. As she was on her deathbed Shah Jahan promised never to remarry and to build the richest mausoleum over her grave. She died in Burhanpur and was buried in a walled garden there however the golden casket was later moved to a small building on the banks of the Yamuna River, soon afterwards the Taj Mahal was constructed over her grave. When Shah Jahan died he was placed alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.taj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been estimated that over 22,000 labourers and 1000 elephants were involved in the Taj Mahal’s construction. The four sides of the Taj Mahal are also identical and the use of symmetry in the architecture is clear to see. One of the most shocking facts we learnt about the Taj Mahal was that after the construction was complete all of the workers had their hands removed which was so they could never build any building as beautiful again.

We left the Taj Mahal amazed by what we had just seen and climbed back aboard the cool, air conditioned bus to head to a restaurant to have some lunch. Lunch was a beautiful spread of indian cuisine and there was also pasta which was too tempting for many us as we had been eating curry everyday so far.

After lunch we travelled to Agra Fort. Sadly there was not enough time for us to go inside however we did get chance to take photos in front of this magnificent fort. The fort can be described as a walled city built by the Mughals which has stood since at least the 11th century. After some photographs we jumped back on the bus for the long journey back to the University of Delhi International Guesthouse. We were greeted back at the University of Delhi International Guesthouse by another beautiful meal and that evening it was an early night for everyone after a long day out in the heat of the Indian sun.

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Day 6 – Hannah Douglas

Our sixth day in India proved the highlight of the trip for many of us. The Amar Joyti Charitable Organisation was an extraordinary place. As a completely inclusive school it had 50% disabled students and 50% non-disabled students. We observed that as integration had happened at such a young age, for these students there was little of the stigma towards disabilities that we had seen elsewhere in India. The experience really highlighted the idea of collectivism which we had been experiencing. Students with no hearing impairment were able to sign with those who did in order to communicate. Students with mobile impairments were helped around the school by their classmates without a second thought.

Students visiting Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust 2

What we all commented on was the happy atmosphere at this school. They were simply a group of children playing and learning together and probably getting up to some mischief. From the outside it appeared as a school but from the inside it was a pioneering step towards accessibility and inclusion.

I personally found it an inspiration to see people vastly younger than myself embracing their lives and experience everything to its fullest. There was no sense of resentment from students who found themselves in a difficult situation because of their disability. They seemed to have simply accepted it and moved on. Something I think everyone can learn from, not least myself.

From this experience I learned that our disabilities are something we should celebrate. People with disabilities may find it harder to get on the same level as everyone else. However, I believe that once they are there, in the workplace or in education, they will excel beyond their counterparts. This is because of their amazing work ethic as people with disabilities never have the opportunity to be lazy if they wish to succeed.

Because of this it is no surprise that the school is also the centre of the Abilympics. The Abilympics are a competition showcasing vocation skills by people with disabilities. Yet another celebration.

While we were there we witness the birthday of Dr. Uma Tuli founder of the trust. There were songs and dance, flowers and cake far beyond any celebration a teacher in England could expect. To list her accomplishments is impossible in the 600 words I have been given but I encourage everyone to read about her amazing work, life and achievements here (http://www.amarjyotirehab.org/about-us/professional-biography-of-dr-uma-tuli.html). I learnt from her that the complete inclusion of people with disabilities is a human right and it should be all our social obligation to ensure this happens.

Celebration is part of the fabric of life in India. Later in the day we visited the Kingdom of Dreams, an immersive Indian experience. In what was essentially a shopping centre a dance performance broke out with shoppers circling around each other getting involved in the performance. It was not what I would expect from a trip to the shops, but in India it seems that nothing done is done without a full heart and a big smile.

When we came to reflect on this day one thing that stuck was that none of us could think of an institution in England that was doing what Amar Jyoti was, providing uninhibited inclusion. What many of us took away from this day was that we all had something to learn here. We must embrace and celebrate the things we cannot change in other and also within ourselves.